About to turn 30, Jonathan Larson is getting impatient. The promising New York songwriter has spent the past five years developing a rock musical, Superbia, that will probably never be produced ó despite the favorable reaction to its workshop airing. He has been living off grants and what he earns in his six-year career as a waiter. Worse, his best friend, Michael, a gifted actor, has chucked it all for a " creative " job on Madison Avenue, where he earns enough to buy a BMW and an apartment with a doorman. And his dancer girlfriend, Susan, has decided she wants to move to Cape Cod, get married, start a family, and own a dishwasher. Itís no wonder Jonathan keeps hearing the clock ticking, ticking, so insistently that he thinks he might explode.
Should he stay or should he go? If he gives up, he faces the numbing banality of the corporate world. If he continues, he could invest another five years writing and rewriting another musical that might fizzle.
What the real-life Jonathan Larson did instead was to create and perform a small autobiographical show, a one-man cabaret act or musical monologue after the fashion of Spalding Gray or Laurie Anderson. tick, tick . . . BOOM! gave him the chance to tell his own story, to sound off about the brutal existence of the unheralded artist, and ó well, yes ó to create a buzz about Superbia. Around the same time, he also began to compose another full-scale musical, the one that would become Rent. The irony, of course, is that he would indeed spend another five years developing the show, and that he would die of an aortic aneurysm just three weeks before Rent opened ó fate thereby cheating him of the fame and wealth for which he had worked so hard.
Five years after Larsonís death, a group of friends including Victoria Leacock revived tick, tick . . . BOOM! at the Off Broadway Jane Street Theatre. The work was substantially reshaped for three actors and a four-piece band in a version by Pulitzer PrizeĖwinning playwright David Auburn ( " Proof " ) and musical arranger Stephen Oremus. Christian Campbell and Trey Ellett have played Jonathan in the current American tour, but Joey McIntyre, the youngest of the New Kids on the Block and a star in the television series Boston Public, had played him Off Broadway, and he was brought in for the Wilbur run.
Even as restructured by Auburn and Oremus, tick, tick . . . BOOM! is pretty insubstantial stuff and only intermittently compelling. Some of the 14 musical numbers sound like freestanding songs Larson had filed in his sketch book and then shoehorned into the show. But some of the material, both spoken and sung, is full of wit and acute observation. " Therapy, " a duet sung by Jonathan and Susan, is hilariously convoluted psychobabble along the lines of " I was afraid that you would be afraid if I told you I was afraid of intimacy. " " Sunday " looks at the absurdity of going out for brunch in SoHo when you could eat the very same thing at home. " No More " is a tour de force about the pleasures of luxury living.
Even more fascinating is to hear how Larson had already created a characteristic musical style that is now immediately familiar to anyone who knows the Rent score. The brilliant " No More, " with its driving rhythms underscoring strongly accentuated text, sounds like an early sketch for Rentís title song.
The Boston cast is a good one. McIntyre brings a light, self-depreciating ease to his performance, and he doesnít get bogged down in the self-pity that is a small but potentially destructive aspect of Larsonís script. He sings well too, though early in the evening it wasnít always easy to make out his words. (I went on preview night; by now the sound engineers may have fixed the problem.) Wilson Cruz, who played the heartbreaking teenager Ricky in My So-Called Life and originated the role of Angel in the Los Angeles production of Rent, invests Michael with humor and tragic dignity. The blondely beautiful Nicole Ruth Snelson, as Susan, is more persuasive as dancer than singer. She has a big showstopper, " Come to Your Senses, " but her voice is so abrasive that itís virtually unlistenable.