11/7/2021 tick ... tick ... BOOM! Act 3 Productions
SONGS OF YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE
It is impossible to watch Jonathan Larson’s tick ... tick ... BOOM! without the reality of Mr. Larson’s early death coloring how we react. The play is, after all, the Rent author’s autobiographical We-Do-Not-Last-Forever-and-Mortality-is-Staring-Me-in-the-Face meditation on Life and Art and Dreams and Compromises and, most especially, Turning Thirty. OF COURSE, Mr. Larson’s early death (at almost-36) is going to cast a pall of melancholic irony over the entire play.
It is also impossible to watch this play from the advantage of 68 years of life without realizing it is a young person’s theme. The final moving anthem, “Louder Than Words” has a recurring chorus of “Cages or wings, which do you prefer?” – a cry to seize your dreams while you still can. Mr. Larson’s death on the heels of his success with Rent makes this especially urgent and poignant.
But it is an oversimplification. We face many choices, many milestones, many crossroads that will define the remainder of our lives. Experience and age eventually teach us that not every compromise is a “cage” and the “wings of a dream” more often than not takes us into different unforeseen cages. But dammit, it feels good to hear, to remember, to realize that even a Boomer of 68 still has the option to Seize that Dream!
I am part of the minority of Musical Theatre fans who was not initially overwhelmed by Rent. I first saw it as part of the initial national tour at a theatre that chose to set the sound level at ear-bleed levels, and I almost left at intermission because of the very real pain it was causing. Since I quickly fell into “judging mode” rather than “engaging mode,”
I found the characters shallow, the plotting predictable, and most of the songs (at least what I heard through the din) completely forgettable.
But the show was inescapable – I saw several more productions and even worked on more than one, and eventually fell in love with the characters’ artistic ambitions and idealism I even grew to like (even love) the music.
On the other hand, I first heard the music from tick ... tick ... BOOM! in 2004 and immediately fell in love with it, responding to the theatrical in-jokes, the youthful idealism, and especially the songs. At the time I said that I liked the worst song in tick ... tick ... BOOM! more than I liked the best song in Rent (and no, I will not identify either song). What this affection did, though, was to lead me to reassess Rent, and see in it its very real virtues and strengths.
This production at Sandy Springs’ Act 3 Productions is everything I wanted it to be – funny, sad, sassy, filled with energy and life, and peopled by three young actor/singers who make non-professional “rough edges” a virtue that makes the show so much more memorable than the Alliance’s slick 2005 staging, which, truth to tell, I found clumsily staged if elegantly performed.
Eddie Estrada is perfect as Jon. playing an imperfect New Yorker obsessed with his approaching 30th birthday. He is an aspiring Musical songwriter – determined to bring Broadway into the rock era – who isn’t facing failure so much as irrelevance. He’s talented, but no one seems to notice or care. Izzi Robles and P.J. Mitchell play a roster of other characters (for a full count, take note of the cast list on the IMDB site for the upcoming movie version), most notably Michael (Jon’s best friend/roommate) and Susan (Jon’s girlfriend). Ms. Robles and Mr. Mitchell jump from character to character, often mid-scene and sans costume change, with a skillful change in posture, voice, and attitude. They are both a joy to watch.
The casts’ voices sometimes crack, sometimes under-project, but always deliver – Ms. Robles (as ditzy actress Karessa) makes “Come to Your Senses” a powerhouse belt that stops the show, making any judgmental quibble totally irrelevant, and cementing in our minds Jon’s very real talent as a songwriter.
Director Michelle Davis uses the Act 3 space well and Set Designer Sophie Harmon has created a beautiful Mondrian-inspired set that feels equally “right” for Jon’s squalid Soho apartment and Michael’s upper-east side luxury apartment. The set is as clever and beautiful as any I’ve seen at this venue (and so much more interesting than the Alliance’s Black Box approach).
The show is a fast-paced 90-minute party that produces enough energy to light the whole Northside perimeter. And the music, so familiar to me, never seems to grow old. I still like the blatant Sondheim parody “Sunday,” and the giddy movin’-on-up anthem to new wealth “No more.” The highlight for me was, as stated before “Come to Your Senses,” which in no way underscores the impact of “Why?”, Jon’s recounting of his friendship with Michael, or the finale “Louder Than Words.” This is, in fact, a score to listen to over and over, often and always, and is, in fact, on more than one of my Amazon Music “Road Trip” play lists.
tick ... tick ... BOOM is an exuberant and memorable anthem to creativity and to facing that ole devil time with courage and equanimity. And Act 3’s production accomplished the no-small-feat of making this jaded old cynic positively quiver with youthful idealism.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #Act3Productions #TickTickBOOM!)