Set in New York City in 1990, tick, tick … BOOM! is a rock monologue that was written and performed by composer Jonathan Larson addressing his creative and personal struggles as he approached his thirtieth birthday – or what he perceived as the ledge of despair.
At the start of the show, Swift Creek Mill’s producing artistic director, Tom Width, introduces the audience to the creative genius Jonathan Larson, who went on to write Rent, one of the most influential works in Broadway history. Tragically, Larson died suddenly at the age of thirty-five (from an aortic dissection) the day before Rent’s off-Broadway debut. He also never saw tick, tick … BOOM! produced professionally.
If you saw the critically acclaimed 2021 film tick, tick … BOOM!, which starred Andrew Garfield, you are aware of all of this. If not, it’s important that Width shares the information as a preface to this moving production, as time – using it wisely and savoring it – is a major theme.
Playing through September 30 at South Chesterfield’s historic theatre, tick, tick … BOOM! is directed by Dr. Jan Powell. The intimate three-actor production is artfully staged on a warehouse-style set with nothing to slow the pace of the intermission-free 75-minute show.
Caleb Wade shines in the role of Jon, capturing the angst of the composer’s self-imposed deadline to have a groundbreaking rock musical produced on Broadway before the age of thirty. Malcom Holmes (Michael), who recently and coincidentally starred in VCUarts’ production of Rent, is Jon’s long-time best friend and roommate who has given up the unstable acting life for a mainstream marketing job and ultimately, a swank apartment and a BMW. The night I saw the show, Rachel Rose Gilmore as Jon‘s girlfriend Susan was a vocal standout. Her rendition of “Come To Your Senses” was particularly impressive.
Best friends Jon and Michael (Wade and Holmes) have a unique and genuine onstage chemistry, as tick, tick … BOOM! takes a close look at the power of male friendship in particular. Holmes and Gilmore (Michael and Susan) are tasked with playing various roles – from Jon’s parents on a memorable phone call to the composer’s agent to a Broadway starlet – and they do it with grace and pluck.
If you enjoy musical theatre of all genres and/or you’re a creative yourself, you will appreciate tick, tick … BOOM! The characters are likable and multi-dimensional. The directing is top-notch. The four-piece rock orchestra, on stage the entire time, deserves a shout-out, as does the fun and funky choreography by Kayla Xavier.
Tick, tick … BOOM! is a weird little musical that’s full of heart and great acting. Larson idolized Stephen Sondheim, whose scores are notoriously difficult to master. This made two of the solos – notably Rachel Rose Gilmore’s and Caleb Wade’s at the end of the show – even more spectacular.
Tick, tick … BOOM! Plays at Swift Creek Mill through September 30. Recommended for folks of all ages who appreciate musical theatre. For showtimes, tickets, and information about pre-show dining at The Mill Room, visit Swift Creek Mill Theatre.