Tick, Tick … Boom!, which was originally created as a semi-autobiographical rock monologue by writer Jonathan Larson and had an Off-Broadway run in 2001 following the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s death (capitalizing on the juggernaut Rent was becoming at the time) continues to evolve and find new life.
The show was turned into a hit Netflix film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2021. It is now the latest installment of the Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage, which offers a one-week-only production, under the direction of Emmy-winner Neil Patrick Harris.
Originally conceived as a three-person musical, Harris has added four ensemble members to his version of Tick, Tick … Boom! There are new vocal arrangements and orchestrations. but the rudimentary simplicity of the original remains intact.
The musical introduces us to Jon (Brandon Uranowitz channeling a pitch-perfect Larson), a composer struggling to break into New York City’s theatrical scene, on the precipice of his 30th birthday and the first-ever public workshop of his debut musical, Superbia. Jon is unhappy at where he is at this stage in his life and Uranowitz captures all the doubt and fear of someone who is heading towards a personal crossroads with no concrete answers. The way Uranowitz whispers the name “Stephen Sondheim” when talking about his hero is a hoot.
Jon’s roommate Michael (Grey Henson) once was an actor himself, but is now a corporate exec at an ad agency who drives a BMW, travels around the country, and has just “moved on up” to a deluxe apartment in the sky, complete with walk-in closets, a dishwasher, and new parquet wood floors, as we learn in the charming, “No More.” The seriousness of Michael is something of a departure for Henson, who is coming off back-to-back comic narrator roles in Mean Girls and Shucked, but the actor proves he’s more than just comic relief. Henson brings real poignancy to a serious discussion with his friend as he urgently tries to persuade Jon to come work with him and get more out of his own life. It would have been interesting to see Henson really explore this character in a run that lasts longer than a week.
One of the things that appears to be going well for Jon is his love life, as Susan (Denée Benton), a dancer who teaches the rich kids uptown, is supportive and loving, and is planning a fun 30th birthday for her beau. But when Susan causally mentions that maybe the two of them should move to Cape Cod, the cracks in the relationship start to show, which are further revealed in the song, “Therapy.” Benton wows in her “Green Green Dress” and powers the house down with “Come to Your Senses” (a song she sings as Karessa, an actress in Superbia.)
Considering Harris added an ensemble, it may have worked better to split Susan and Karessa into two tracks, though it would have been a shame to miss Benton on those vocals!
Speaking of the ensemble, Kenedy Caughell, Kelvin Moon Loh, Yael “Yaya” Reich, and Nikhil Saboo are a great addition and not only provide outstanding harmonies throughout, but add some levity along the way. Reich is especially hilarious as Jon’s longtime, seldom seen agent, Rosa.
One of Harris’s most notable additions is the use of dramatic projections behind Uranowitz’s face that draw attention to the dialogue without losing the intimate feel that Larson’s words require. Video and projection designer Nathan Scheuer’s unique camera angles add a deep layer of emotion to these personal soliloquys.
Set designer Paul Tate dePoo III offers a great representation of early ’90s New York City, especially the lives of struggling actors in small apartments. Video of broadcasts and events from that era on the overhead screens are a nice touch.
Harris obviously has a special affinity for Larson and this show (he appeared in the 2005 London production). He has managed to put a winning stamp on it, making it his own without losing any of the heart or hope of the original. Don’t let Tick, Tick pass you by, as the explosive musical must close on Feb. 4.