Before Rent, there was Tick, Tick…BOOM! First written and performed as a one man “rock monologue” by Jonathan Larson, the work was later expanded into a three actor musical. Exploring many of the same themes as his more famous piece, Tick, Tick…BOOM! does so in a more grounded, self-contained manner. It also is much more explicitly autobiographical with the central character, a musical composer also named Jon, endlessly work shopping his creations in hopes of someday finding commercial success as an artist. That Larson, who suddenly passed away at the age of thirty-five, was never able to enjoy the success that comes with having penned one of the greatest American musicals of all time makes this earlier work all the more poignant.
It was understudy Domenic Procaccini II who performed as Jon on the night of my review. Although Procaccini II initially appeared nervous, he steadily gained in confidence as the show progressed and was very believable as an artist facing a crossroads. Molly Lecaptin (as Jon’s girlfriend Susan) put her powerful vocals to good use and morphed well into several other characters. The Cuckoo’s Theater Project’s artistic director, Marc James, plays Jon’s best friend and demonstrated a solid singing voice while doing so.
Despite this obvious on stage talent, the production is slow to warm and the cast is a bit pitchy when singing together. And while director Donald Kalakowski stages the action well, he makes far too little use of the onstage band for the show to truly qualify as a rock musical. The material also appears uneven with only a few numbers, like Johnny Can’t Decide and Therapy, possessing the same magic that is found in Rent. Too many other songs feel more indulgent than insightful. At times the material also appears a bit preachy and overly simplified.
Bottom Line: Tick, Tick,…BOOM! Is somewhat recommended. Those who have seen Rent multiple times will enjoy seeing the precursor to the mega hit. For everyone else, however, I am not so sure. Tick, Tick,…BOOM! is playing at the Prop Thtr (3502 North Elston) through December 16th. Performances are on Fridays (8 PM), Saturdays (3 PM and 8 PM), and Sundays (3 PM). The work will also be performed on Thursday, December 14. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased online at thecuckoostheaterproject or by calling (312) 882-8201. Arts Access tickets are also available for each show (you pay what you can).