THEATRE REVIEW: tick, tick... BOOM! 

New York Stories: Catch a brief, bright glimpse of the life of Rent Creator Jonathan Larson

tick, tick... BOOM!
Charleston Stage Company
Oct. 17-19, 25, 26 at 8 p.m.
Oct. 20, 21, 27 at 6 p.m.
Oct. 20, 27 at 9 p.m.
American Theater
446 King St.
$30, $26/seniors, $10/students
(843) 577-7183

tick, tick... BOOM! has been billed as a departure for Charleston Stage, with a more intimate setting, adult language, and contemporary music. But it's not all that different from previous shows. Unless you're horribly offended by the f-word, there's nothing objectionable — or remarkable — to be found in this short, entertaining modern-day musical from the creator of Rent.

The story centers around Jon, a promising composer living in a black-walled apartment on the West Side of Soho. It's 1990 and Jon is a confirmed member of the Boomer Junior generation, gazing at his navel, concerned with turning 30.

His girlfriend Susan is there to help him through his quarter-life crisis. He's also bucked up by his roommate, Mike, who's making a name for himself on Madison Avenue.

Jon prepares for a workshop production of his futuristic musical Superbia, which he hopes will take him to the next level: a Broadway show. Karessa, his star actress, takes a shine to him causing friction between Jon and Susan. When Susan announces that she's moving out of New York, Jon has to make a decision — stick with the music or get a proper job.

Sam Weber is good in the tricky role of Jon, narrating the show as well as interacting with the other characters. The hero's emotions are mostly expressed through the songs, which Weber performs with gusto. Jon's self-obsessed, amped-up persona won't be for everyone, but Weber keeps him sympathetic throughout. With his hands in his pockets and a lean, hungry look, Weber resembles a singing, dancing version of Breckin Meyer's John from the Garfield movies.

The other four actors play multiple roles with great dexterity. Nicole Nicastro is the sympathetic Susan who makes the most of an underdeveloped role. She also choreographs the show, adding important visual touches to numbers like "30/90," where Jon and Mike's friendship is shown through the way they mock-punch and pinch each other. Charlie Retzlaff helps build up the sense of a teeming city in several different parts.

On the night we saw the show, the cast dealt professionally with a few minor sound glitches. Nicastro overcame problems with her microphone by belting out some of her lines. Although Patrick Tierney (Mike) didn't have the same hindrances, his singing wasn't as strong, making his key song, "Real Life," a chore to sit through. Acting-wise, he came across as confident and very likeable.

Autumn Seavey (Karessa) has one of the few solos, "Come to Your Senses," and she makes it one of the show's most memorable songs. That's followed by another slow number, "Why," sang by Weber. Both help to strengthen the final part of BOOM!, ensuring that it doesn't end with a whimper.

While Jon finally solves his crisis, there was no happy ending for writer Jonathan Larson. Although his musical Rent was a triumph, with numerous awards, box office success, and a movie adaptation, Larson missed it all. He died suddenly from an aneurysm a month before the show opened. He was only 35.

This adds much-needed poignancy to the day-seizing, free-living themes in tick, tick... BOOM! It's also evident that this autobiographical show has been put together posthumously, using a one-man production, musical numbers, and segments of a cabaret to create a tribute to Larson's talent. As a result there isn't much of a story to propel the show, and Jon is too self-involved to make this a great character study. But BOOM! isn't the first musical with a paltry plot, and the transitions from one scene to another are well handled.

If you like Rent but aren't expecting full-blown spectacle, you'll be in heaven watching this show.


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