The tag-line on all the posters for “tick, tick … BOOM!” declares “Before ‘Rent,’ Jonathan Larson had another story to tell … his own.” This engaging autobiographical tale comes in the form of Larson’s rock-musical “tick, tick … BOOM!” which is playing at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles until July 16. The work, which was originally conceived by Larson as a one-man show and was reorganized into a three character musical after his death, deals with Larson’s struggles to succeed as a playwright, his similarly struggle-filled love life and the realities he faced at his thirtieth birthday. Set on the eve of 1990, this musical is a must-see for anyone who has ever had to decide between chasing their dreams and paying their bills.
The cast features a threesome of talented and dynamic performers, whose vocal talents and collective ability to engage the audience earned them a packed house and a standing ovation when I saw the show. Wilson Cruz, whose most memorable roles include Angel in “Rent” on Broadway and at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater and Rickie on “My So-Called Life,” stars as the yuppie businessman Michael and proves that he can hold his own playing the gay sellout with a heart of gold just as well as he played the gay teenager with a heart of gold back in the day. Broadway leading lady Tami Tappan Damiano plays the lead character’s girlfriend and she turns in a performance that is the subtlest and most finely tuned comedic and dramatic work in the whole show, as well as a mesmerizing delivery of the ballad “Come To Your Senses.” Finally, Andrew Samonsky reprises the role of Jonathan that he originated in the show’s West Coast premiere with the perfect balance of humor and heart.
With songs that include an ode to the soothing power of sugary Twinkies, “Therapy” — a song whose message about relationships is hilarious because it’s so true — and a musical tour through Michael’s apartment in which he graphically describes enough perils of renting cheap college and post-college places to make any I.V. landlord blush, “tick, tick … BOOM!” resonates with a surprising amount of relevance, despite the fact that it was written over a decade ago. The staging — which features sparse sets, interaction between the band and the performers, no intermissions or set changes and minimal props — is reminiscent of “Rent.” And, like “Rent,” the show’s focus is on the performers and the things they are saying and singing, rather than on their dance moves – which are mostly and effectively done for comedic effect. This show has many elements that will be familiar to people who loved “Rent” and, just as with “Rent,” “tick, tick … BOOM!” proves that Larson was uniquely adept at combining great rock riffs with real contemporary issues to create something that is timelessly meaningful, funny and entertaining.
The Coronet is currently offering $20 tickets for front-row seats at every performance. The tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office and are subject to availability. With an amazing cast, a memorable script and ticket prices that even the poorest dreamer can afford, this is one event worth driving down to L.A. for.