By George Basler
In the late 1980s, Jonathan Larson, who would later create the musical blockbuster Rent, was going through something of a personal crisis. Approaching the age of 30, he was concerned that his theatrical career was stalled and that he might have to give up on his dream of composing a great American musical.
This internal debate inspired him to create Tick, Tick … Boom!, an intimate, semi-autobiographical musical that tells the story of a struggling composer facing what might be a life-changing decision.
On Friday (March 3), BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier) will open a two-weekend run of the musical at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott.
Larson first performed the musical as a one-man “rock monologue” in 1990. After Larson’s untimely death in 1996, playwright David Auburn expanded it into a three-person show that opened Off-Broadway in 2001, five years after Larson’s death. A movie adaptation in 2021 starred Andrew Garfield, who received an Academy Award nomination for his performance.
While the musical focuses on Larson’s emotional turmoil, the theme is universal, said Rob Egan, BLAST’s artistic director, who is directing the production. Everyone has “internal clocks” that tell them where they are at certain points in their lives and force them to focus on choices they must make, he said.
The 14-song score, all composed by Larson, is a mixture of musical styles from rock to Broadway. Some are upbeat; some are ballads. There is even a snippet of “Moving on Up” from the old Jeffersons television show and an affectionate parody of a Stephen Sondheim song, Egan said. Sondheim was one of Larson’s mentors.
The musical features three characters: Jonathan, an aspiring composer: Michael, his best friend who makes a career move from acting to marketing, and Susan, Jonathan’s girlfriend,who is urging him to move out of New York City and follow her to Cape Cod.
The show has comic moments as well as “real life moments,” Egan said, adding, “It’s just a good show with good music and a good story.”
Larson’s premature passing adds a sense of poignancy to the show. He died of an aortic dissection on the day Rent had its first Off-Broadway preview performance. He had fulfilled his dream of writing what would become a Broadway smash but never had a chance to savor his success.
Egan said he was attracted to directing Tick, Tick … Boom! because of his admiration for Larson’s work. Rent, which he saw as an 18-year-old college freshman, had a big impact on his life. That musical touched on issues, such as homophobia, that were not talked about at the time.
“People who were thought of as less in society were given a voice in a real way,” he noted.
Tick, Tick … Boom! provides a showcase for talented young performers, Egan added. The three members of BLAST’s cast — Ryan Canavan, Jessica Kennis, and Mark Durkee — have all been making their marks on the local theater scene.
Canavan (Jonathan) has a list of credits, including — most recently — Black Comedy at Binghamton’s KNOW Theatre. Kennis (Susan) appeared in the ensembles of SRO Productions III’s Head Over Heels and BLAST’s Once Upon a Mattress. Last fall, Durkee (Michael) was in BLAST’s Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.
The cast will be accompanied by a four-person orchestra under the direction of Sonny DeWitt.
“There is this real good energy around the show. People want to tell this story,” Egan said.
While noting that Tick, Tick … Boom! is a bit of a change of pace for BLAST, Egan said he thinks audience members will enjoy it.
“We’re not asking them to take a leap of faith, just tip their toes into something different,” he said.
IF YOU GO: BLAST will present Tick, Tick … Boom! March 3-5 and March 10-12 at the Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday performances are at 2:30 p.m. Tickets at $25 can be purchased online at cidermillstage.com or by calling the box office at 607-321-9630.