If you are on the fence about seeing “tick, tick… BOOM!” at International City Theatre (ICT), go now! The talent in this show—three superb performers and a rocking band—brings Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical to rollicking life, creating a must-see experience that is both entertaining and emotionally satisfying.
When he passed away prematurely in 1996 at the age of 35, musical composer Jonathan Larson left behind not only with his award-winning hit musical “Rent,” but also his autobiographical “tick, tick… BOOM!” The musical’s title refers to the sound main character Jon says he hears in his head—a biological clock giving him anxiety about what he has not accomplished as his 30th birthday looms.
Vocally talented performer Ernesto Figueroa captures perfectly Jon’s youthful energy and angst while delivering Larsen’s emotionally open and often humorous songs. So completely does Figueroa embody his character that It’s almost as if the musical were written for him.
When Jon plays piano and sings “30/90”—about turning 30 in 1990 in New York—we hear how disconnected he is from that milestone age, still feeling 22 and just wanting to cry when thinking of his friends singing “happy birthday.”
In that way, some of the lyrics, duets and harmonies are reminiscent of the work of composer Stephen Sondheim, such as when the cast of “Company” sings about Bobby’s 35th birthday, almost as if Larson’s musical were a tribute to Sondheim—whom Jon idolizes so much he can barely speak his name.
But Larson’s often rock-inflected music gives his work a different texture than Sondheim’s—the ripping on-stage band features music director Anthony Zediker on piano, Cody Cadena on guitar, Khris Kempis on bass and Nicole Marcus on percussion—and the lyrics are more refreshingly idiosyncratic to Jon’s life.
Matching Figueroa in singing talent are Phillip J. Lewis as Jon’s long-time friend Michael—whose high-paying advertising job and BMW only adds to Jon’s angst—and Samantha M. Lawrence as Jon’s dance-teacher girlfriend Susan, who wants to move away from the city (the strain of which is captured in “Johnny Can’t Decide”).
Meanwhile Jon works as a waiter, singing to himself in “Sunday” about how brunch eaters should go home to save money. Such humor also figures in the cute double entendre of “Sugar,” which Jon sings as he surreptitiously buys Twinkies before workshopping his new musical “Superbia” to potential producers.
But the songs are also charged with vulnerability, such as when Jon feels troubled about Susan’s ambivalence in “See Her Smile” (“something’s breaking by baby’s heart”) and reminds himself about his passion for musical theatre in “Why” (“what a way to spend a day”), renewing his faith in his path, even though it means risking his relationship or not (yet) having a BMW.
Dynamically directed by Kari Hayter (who also directed ICT’s engaging “Marry Me a Little” last year), “tick, tick… BOOM!” offers a tour de force performance with not a dropped note or missed step by any of the talented trio.
Whether you’re approaching 30 or twice (or even three times) that age, you will thoroughly enjoy these performers’ stellar singing while being emotionally swept up in the musical's timeless story of pursuing one’s passions despite the pain. Don’t miss it!
International City Theatre’s “tick, tick… BOOM!” continues through March 5 at the Beverly O’Neill Theater, 330 E. Seaside Way, Long Beach, with shows Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $49 to $52 and can be purchased by calling (562) 436-4610 or visiting ICTLongBeach.org. Masks are optional. Run time is 90 minutes, without intermission.