Review: ‘Tick, Tick…BOOM!’ at Spotlighters

Tick, Tick…BOOM!, as directed and choreographed by Jillian Locklear Bauersfeld, and with Book, Music and Lyrics by the late Jonathan Larson, was an insightful semi-autobiographical and musical journey. Larson, famous for writing the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Rent, wrote Tick, Tick…BOOM! to vent his disappointment about the failure of his earlier work, Superbia, a musical version of George Orwell’s 1984.

Garrett Zink (Jon). Photo by Chris Aldridge/CMAldridge Photography.
Garrett Zink (Jon). Photo by Chris Aldridge/CMAldridgePhotography.

In its essence, Tick, Tick…BOOM! is about the twin anxieties of reaching the milestone age of 30 and being an artist in search of a first hit. In the show, Larson took the form of struggling musical playwright and composer Jon (Garrett Zink), a high-strung, composer Stephen Sondheim-worshipping, 29-year-old, in the year 1990, who lamented that he’d been a promising composer for so long “I have broken the promise.” Pacing around his SoHo apartment, he wondered if his show was “good enough for Broadway.”

Jon, his dancer girlfriend Susan (the outstanding Clare Kneebone), and Michael, an actor-turned-market-research-executive (Rob Wall) powerfully sang “30/90,” about the challenges of the first three decades of life.

The up-tempo, doo-whoppish “Green Green Dress,” sung by Zink and Kneebone moved the story forward, passing through Jon and Susan’s young couple problems, including Susan’s desire to move to Cape Cod. Kneebone’s vivacious vocals then fueled “Johnny Can’t Decide.”

Michael’s story arc included meeting best friend Jon at Camp Showanda at age eight, becoming a talented actor, and then ditching a life in the performing arts for a career in marketing, an elegant apartment and a BMW motor-car.

In “No More,” Wall and Zink sang about the joys of no more “walking up six flights of stairs, and carrying laundry for 13 blocks (One could see portions of Rent floating through this part of the storyline). Both men cut a rug good enough to make John Travolta proud.

L to R: Rob Wall (Michael), Garrett Zink (Jon), and Clare Kneebone (Susan). Photo by Chris Aldridge/CMAldridge Photography.
L to R: Rob Wall (Michael), Garrett Zink (Jon), and Clare Kneebone (Susan). Photo by Chris Aldridge/CMAldridge Photography.

Susan and Michael’s relationship back-and-forths, and ups-and-downs led to the excellent “Therapy,” which featured a country-music feel and insightful-lyrics like “What I thought, about what you thought.”

After Jon’s fiasco of a guest brainstorming session, done as a favor, at Michael’s marketing firm (in which Jon suggested a new product called “Chubstitute”), Wall, Zink, and Kneebone harmonized nicely on “Real Life.”

Wall and Kneebone played the characters Counter Guy, and Karessa, a Superbia cast member, respectively, as they sang “Sugar” with Zink; the scene was based on Jon’s sugary snack run at a store and his encounter with Karessa, his forbidden crush.

“See Her Smile,” by Jon, Susan and Michael expressed Jon’s emotional lament to see Susan happy again. Michael made a startling reveal to Jon; Susan made a big decision about her future, and Jon finally celebrated his birthday, after which Jon sang the soulful “Why.” “Louder Than Words,” sung by the three vocally talented cast members was upbeat and featured dazzling dance moves.

I loved the musical direction and keyboarding of Michael W. Tan and Greg Bell’s Bass playing. Costume Designer Andrew Malone dressed Susan in dazzling dresses and sexy bedroom attire.

With its fantastic cast, Spotlighter’s Tick, Tick…BOOM! was a well-performed peek into the mind and insecurities of an incomparable artist who produced a timeless classic.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Tick,Tick…BOOM! played through Sunday, July 31, 2016 at Spotlighters Theatre – 817 St. Paul Street, in Baltimore,  MD.

Spotlighters’ 55th season starts September 2nd with Marx in Soho. For tickets, call (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.

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