Westport Country Playhouse, Westport
“tick, tick…BOOM!” which is now at the Westport Country Playhouse, is an engaging little musical—a three-character mini-musical. It is also the classic tale of the artist’s ongoing struggle, despite all elements which conspire against him.
What makes this piece especially poignant is its subtext—its story behind the story. Jonathan Larson, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics for this piece, would go on to Broadway fame with his full-scale “Rent.” Larson did not live to see the opening of “Rent,” dying suddenly on dress rehearsal night of that show. He was 35 years old.
Furthermore, “tick, tick…BOOM!” is essentially autobiographical, dealing with Larson’s own post-college years in New York City, a time when he turned down practical well-paying jobs to pursue his dream. Jonathan becomes Jon, who rejects his friend Michael’s offer to join his marketing firm and rejects his girl friend Susan’s plea to move to the country. The show’s title indicates that the biological clock is ticking, and, as Jon approaches age 30, he is forced to examine his life. Is he spinning his wheels, going nowhere? Will he never become a recognized artist? Should he take on a paying job in the real world?
On the plus side, for this production, are the smooth, imaginative direction of Scott Schwartz and the seamless, highly appropriate work of his design team (David Farley—set, Herrick Goldman—lighting, Ilona Somogyi—costumes, and Jon Weston—sound)….It all works together to spell out the Larson world and Larson story. And all three performers—Colin Hanlon as Jon, Wilson Cruz as Michael, and Pearl Sun as Susan—bring a vitality and high level of professionalism to the moment.
But the negatives—and there are negatives—must be addressed. When the little musical played in Manhattan’s West Village years ago, it had found its perfect venue—small, scruffy, and intimate—with audience to match. What better venue and audience
For the protesting, struggling artist! Westport Country Playhouse’s elegant, posh, expansive setting is simply not the right fit.
Secondly, the lyrics—and even at times the spoken dialogue--are frequently lost. While the gist of the story comes across, the details of this three-way relationship go down the drain. Who is to blame—the effective but too-loud musical combo (Charles Czarnecki—piano, Seth Myers—bass, Spencer Cohen—drums, Craig Magnano—guitars), the Playhouse acoustical system, Colin Hanlon’s tendency to rush his lines? Probably a combination of all three elements.
Yet this rare opportunity to experience musical history is not to be missed. The Larson music and lyrics reveal a distinctive voice, offbeat and different. How tragic that that voice was silenced so quickly!
-- Irene Backalenick
July 3, 2009