Artsmash Critic Tim Smith covers classical music, theater and visual arts in Baltimore and beyond

Stillpointe Theatre revives Jonathan Larson's 'Tick, Tick ... Boom'

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Stillpointe Theatre, which has a fine track record of reviving musicals, has taken a fresh look at “Tick, Tick … Boom,” an autobiographical work from 1990 by Jonathan Larson, written six years before his reputation would be secured by “Rent.”

Larson’s struggles to create something for the musical stage before he turned 30 became the source material for a one-man show about those very trials. After Larson’s untimely death at 35 (he didn’t get to see “Rent” become a Broadway sensation), playwright David Auburn fashioned a new version of “Tick, Tick … Boom” for three actors.

The slender plot, centering on a would-be musical theater composer named Jon, captures the pressures of working against time and expectations, and the dreams of generating a little buzz.

Things can turn clunky when it comes to detailing Jon’s relationships with girlfriend Susan and gay roommate Michael, but the musical clicks thanks to Larson’s songs, which provide sufficient melodic and harmonic appeal. At their best, his lyrics are clever and amusing.

As the Stillpointe staging underlines, it all adds up to a brisk, 90-minute ride through the creative process.

Adam Cooley deftly captures Jon’s neuroses and doubts. He can be touching and funny (especially when uttering a few barely audible syllables of the name Stephen Sondheim, Jon’s foremost idol). Cooley’s sturdy singing also hits the spot.

Amber Wood does dynamic work as Susan, a woman who sees something greener beyond Manhattan and its boroughs. As Michael, a young man clinging to a well-paying job, Ryan Haase likewise makes a vibrant presence. Both actors have the vocal chops for the music and the several other roles each is called on to portray along the way.

Haase also designed the set, which sends sheets of music paper spiraling to the ceiling like wayward thought bubbles.

Director Grace Anastasiadis uses every inch of the compact performance space (audience members may feel like squatters sharing Jon’s flat), and she guides humorous scenes surely, especially one where Jon tries to fit into an oh-so-serious research brainstorming session.

Musical director Stacey Antoine provides his usual solid support from the keyboard, drawing supple playing from a small combo that, for the most part, doesn’t drown out the singers. (It’s so refreshing to hear a musical with an unamplified cast.)

Knowing just how fast the clock was ticking for Larson when he wrote this musical cannot help but give it a certain poignancy. The Stillpointe production makes sure that the life-affirming qualities behind the show also resonate.

If you go

“Tick, Tick … Boom” runs through Aug. 12 at Stillpointe Theatre, 1825 N Charles St. $25. Go to stillpointetheatre.com.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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