Review: 'Tick, tick....BOOM!' at Sacred Heart University

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

But I write musicals with rock music. A contradiction in terms. Broadway's about 60 years behind anything you hear on the radio. You can't put rock onstage – real rock, not warmed-over easy-listening pop, not plastic imitation 50s bubblegum. Nevertheless, that's what I'm trying to do with ‘Superbia.’

Could my show end up here? Is it good enough for Broadway, that magical street of dreams? Is it too good for Broadway, that shameless commercial whore? It's that raging mix of envy and contempt that's so ... healthy. - Jon in ‘Tick, Tick….BOOM!

‘Tick, Tick... Boom!’ (often styled as tick, tick... BOOM!) is a musical written by American composer Jonathan Larson, yes THAT Jonathan Larson, who won a Pulitzer and three Tony Awards for his musical ‘Rent.’

‘Tick, tick...BOOM!’ tells the story of an aspiring composer named Jon, who lives in New York City in 1990; the ticking is the sound of his mounting anxiety as he faces his thirtieth birthday. Mr. Larson’s musical was completed in 1991 and is an autobiographical “rock monologue’ that was first entitled ‘30/90,’ later renamed ‘Boho Days’ and finally given the current title. The piece was originally written for only Mr. Larson himself with a piano and a rock band and was intended to be a response to his feelings of rejection caused by the disappointment of a previous work entitled ‘Superbia,’ which is mentioned in the storyline. After the composer’s untimely death in 1996, ‘Tick, tick… BOOM’ was revised and revamped by David Auburn as a three-actor piece that ran Off-Broadway and had an American national tour. Now one actor plays Jon and two others play his best friend Michael and his girlfriend Susan as well as all the other roles in the show. 

After hearing Mr. Larson’s family and colleagues talk about this little show on the director’s cut of the film version of ‘Rent,’ I had always wanted to see a production of this earlier work. The fact that the composer had died so young and unexpectedly told me that the poignancy would be palpable in a musical about his short career. So I jumped at the chance to catch a production at my alma mater, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield (‘81, ‘89 MAT.) There were no dorms when I attended for my undergrad years and definitely not a theater department and the halls looked very different from when I worked on my graduate degree. I was probably one of the few members of the audience in ‘The Little Theatre’ that knew we were all sitting in what used to serve as the university’s chapel. 

So there were plenty of students in the audience and they appreciated the hard work of their fellow SHU students. SHU Director of Performing Arts Jerry Goehring definitely got the most out of his three actors and made the small set work for a wide variety of needs. The original script and score were apparently streamlined and edited so the show fit nicely into 90 minutes without an intermission. 

Leo Carusone, a musical director with many Broadway and National Tour credits, served as musical director. The pit consisted of Mr. Carusone on keyboard and a fabulous electric guitar player Richard Neal. Their accompaniment was perfect for the space. Olivia Druckrey, a SHU senior, did the minimal choreography that worked well for the small stage. Assistant director Nicole Jablonski designed the costumes that helped tell the story, with the one for the lone female member of the cast requiring the most changes. 

The performances of the three cast members belied the fact that they are of college age, for all three came off as seasoned singing actors with a wealth of experience. Zachary Lane, a SHU junior studying Criminal Justice, nailed every aspect of the leading role of Jon, with the single exception of actually playing the onstage keyboard.  Having viewed several videos of Mr. Larson singing his own songs, I was struck with how effectively this actor was bringing him to life, right down a similar hairstyle. He sang beautifully the lead lines of the various musical numbers and embodied both the fast-paced manner of the composer as well as his thoughtful side. His was a most memorable performance. 

And the supporting cast members were just as good considering the wide variety of characters that they covered. Henley Solomon, a SHU sophomore in the Theater Arts Program has a big singing voice and fabulous stage presence as Michael, Jon’s father and others. This singing actor struck me as a younger version of the excellent community theatre actor Mensah Robinson for many reasons. Julia Vezza, a junior in the Theater Arts Program was so strong in the role of the girlfriend and so funny as Jon’s often absent agent. This young actress sang every note with conviction and handled well her back and forth between characters. 

Some might criticize a few of the numbers as a bit precious, but I thought such pieces as “Sugar” and “Sunday” fleshed out the character nicely. I loved the breaking of the fourth wall and the references to other shows such as ‘West Side (Story,)’ ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Peter Pan.’ And I didn’t miss the riffs on ‘Rent’ with a reference to throwing down the key to one’s apartment and the hearing of messages on an old answering machine. I laughed at all the theatre jokes, like the mispronunciation of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s surname and teared up at the moments of self doubt that plagued this gifted composer that was taken from the world far too soon. And the line about the old ladies from Connecticut unwrapping their candies loudly as well as the Sondheim references were priceless. 

The lighting was fine on the small stage, but some lights shining in my eyes as I sat in the second row reminded me of being onstage. Their location may have been a limitation of the space, and I am not sure how many in the audience were affected but it blinded my view of the action whenever they were in use. 

I enjoyed this show even more than I expected and would recommend it to ‘Rent’ fans for sure, but it stands alone as a fine early musical of a gifted composer. ‘Tick, tick...BOOM!’ runs at Sacred Heart University through Sunday, Nov. 5 and tickets are selling fast. Next up at SHU will be ‘The Tempest’ with a 1920’s twist running Nov. 17-20 at 8:00pm in the larger Edgerton Center on campus, so I will be heading back to the alma mater once again. 

Pictured: Julia Vezza, Zachary Lane and Henley Solomon in 'Tick, tick...BOOM!' Photo by Sacred Heart University Theatre Arts Program