Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Tick, Tick... Boom!
And then there's composer Jonathan Larson, who seemed to have had them both: strong songs and strong stories to go with them. But the chronology of his three musicals is confusing at first: he's best known for having written the iconic Rent (his third show, from 1996) and later for Tick, Tick... Boom! (his second, which only emerged Off-Broadway in 2001). The composer suffered an aortic dissection and died unexpectedly the day before Rent opened in previews off-Broadway, when he was 35. Now, Tick, Tick... Boom! is enjoying a very admirable onstage revival in St. Louis thanks to Take Two Productions at the Third Baptist Church, across from the Fabulous Fox Theatre, where I first saw Rent on tour. Sweeping, anthemic songs poured out of the composer and into both shows, and the two stories are simple, touching and visceral in the telling.
But, just as the rest of the theater world's attention now turns to Stephen Sondheim's final musical, we are drawn here to Larson's very first, which was far from simple: Superbia, which earned Sondheim's respect for Larson's talents. The subject of Tick, Tick... Boom! is based on the composer's personal struggle to mount Superbia, itself based on George Orwell's "1984." Superbia involved a decadent culture controlled by an all-powerful computer.
In the 80-minute long Tick, Tick... Boom!, all the doubts and relationship problems of a struggling young artist revolve around the lengthy process of workshopping that first show. Clayton Humburg, a delightfully talented actor, sinks his talons into the Larson role, here called Jon, and takes flight under the direction of Stephen Peirick and the choreography of Stephanie Kluba.
The small cast and band are stronger than their numbers suggest. Katie Orr is warm and winning as Jon's girlfriend Susan, a dancer gently pressuring him to leave New York for a more survivable Cape Cod. Elsewhere, Ms. Orr is hilarious as Jon's agent Rose. Jacob Schmidt has a fantastic natural look and style as Jon's roommate, who has abandoned life on the stage for a more comfortable job in marketing. Brittany Kohl Hester is adorable as one of Superbia's workshop performers and is also very funny as a marketing team leader. And Ryan Farmer is excellent as Jon's father and other roles.
The score is rich and varied, including "Sunday," a brief, impressionistic number about Larson's work life at the Moondance Diner. There is one throwaway number in the show, "Sugar," which is, appropriately, about junk food. Another, "Come to Your Senses," evokes Madonna in her own late 1980s phase. But, like his better-known "Seasons of Love" (from Rent), Larson reels off more anthemic magic in "Louder Than Words." And he mines narrative gold in the relationship song-and-dance number "Therapy," with detailed choreography by Ms. Kluba (and Mr. Peirick). All of these numbers likewise showcase the musical direction of Joe Schoen.
Nearly chamber-sized in its small cast, the show gathers the look and feel of a full-fledged hit, thanks to all concerned.
Tick, Tick... Boom! continues through October 7, 2023, at the Third Baptist Church, 620 N. Grand Avenue, St. Louis MO. For tickets and more information please visit www.taketwoproductions.org.