Raúl Esparza gave his last performance as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show on Sunday. The next day, he picked up a Theatre World Award for his Broadway debut in that show. And now, already, he's well into rehearsals for his next project: tick, tick...BOOM!, described as "a new musical from the creator of Rent," the late Jonathan Larson.
"Initially, the show was a rock monologue written and performed by Jonathan," Esparza explains. "I think there are five drafts of the show. He did it as a cabaret piece with himself, a piano, and a band. It went through a couple of titles; it was called Boho Days at one point and then it was called 30/90, which is the title of a song in the show, about the fact that he was turning 30 in 1990. And then it became tick, tick...BOOM!. The idea is that the clock was ticking for him as he was about to turn 30."
The tick, tick...BOOM! that will begin performances at the Jane Street Theatre on May 23, with an official opening set for June 13, is not inaccurately called "a new musical" in that it's a major revision of the show Larson performed in 1990 and again in 1993. For one thing, the cast has now been expanded to three: Amy Spanger and Jerry Dixon will be supporting Esparza, and David Auburn (author of Proof) is listed as "script consultant." Needless to say, the piece is highly autobiographical; the name of the central character is, in fact, "Jonathan." So, does that mean Esparza will be playing Jonathan Larson? "Well, the character has no last name," he says, "and that's on purpose. And though the show is about the events that inspired Rent, we don't actually talk about Rent. I think it's about much more than Jonathan writing that specific show; it's about a young man coming to terms with being an adult, finally figuring out what he has to say to the world." Larson, of course, died tragically of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm on January 25, 1996, in the early morning hours of the day of Rent's first public performance at the New York Theatre Workshop and 10 days prior to his 36th birthday.
Jonathan Larson's father, Al, has been very much involved in the project. "One of the reasons is that I'm more or less playing his son," says Esparza. "It's very different from Rent, because it's not about a bunch of fictional characters." The actor has the blessing of his Rocky Horror castmates Daphne Rubin-Vega and Kristin Lee Kelly, both of whom were in the original company of Rent: "They felt it was too close to their hearts to be involved directly, but they encouraged me to do it," he says. Has Esparza spent a lot of time talking with the women about Larson? "I've tried to get an impression of him from them," he replies, "but I don't want to pretend to be him in the show. I think I want to find to find some places where his gestures can be part of my performance, but I think it wouldn't be very interesting for me to try to mimic him. As we work on the show, it's becoming more and more universal."