Boom More a Boomlet

By Geary Danihy
            Having been less than overwhelmed by Rent, the much acclaimed rock musical by Jonathan Larson (it’s a generational thing, I imagine), I approached the production of his tick…tick…Boom! at the Westport Country Playhouse with a bit of trepidation. My fears, thankfully, were unwarranted, for although Boom! is not great musical theater it is pleasant enough and, as staged by director Scott Schwartz, provides some truly entertaining moments.
            Semi-autobiographical, Boom! offers up for consideration the trials and tribulations of Jon (Colin Hanlon), a frustrated song writer who is about to turn 30 and is questioning his choice of professions.


Waiting tables at a diner by day and writing songs by night, Jon is tempted to walk away from his dream of having a musical produced on Broadway, especially since his former roommate Michael (Wilson Cruz) has “sold out,” giving up on an acting career to work for a marketing research firm, a move that has allowed him to rent a fancy new apartment and purchase a BMW. Michael’s girl friend, Susan (Pearl Sun), a dancer, is there for support, but she is tiring of Manhattan and yearns for the simpler life she believes is offered by suburbia.


The musical is a pastiche of songs Larson wrote in the early 90s, initially for a one-man show. As such, some seem well integrated into the plot, while others are musical moments that just seem to happen for no apparent reason other than it’s time for another song. The most blatant of these is “Sugar,” an ode to the dubious benefits provided by Twinkies, and coming in a close second is “Green Green Dress,” a ditty that deals with the sexual stimulation derived from a piece of attire.


Happily, there are also songs like “Therapy,” a wonderfully choreographed lovers’ quarrel played out by Hanlon and Sun that captures the non-sequiturial nature of such arguments, the touching “See Her Smile,” sung by Jon as he faces the departure of Susan from his life, the humorous “Sunday,” in which Jon gets to gripe about his regular Sunday brunch customers at the diner, and “No More,” in which Jon and Michael catalogue the delights of living the good life: “Hello, to shiny new parquet wood floors as waxed as a wealthy girl's legs. Hello, dear Mister Dishwasher.”


Given the plot, there are also several songs detailing the nature of thirty-something angst circa 1990 – “30/90,” “Johnny Can’t Decide” and “Come To Your Senses” – to which a possible response might be, “Just grow up!” That, however, is the point, for growing up for Jon means shelving forever his hopes of seeing his work finally appreciated, something that does finally happen on the night of his thirtieth birthday when he receives a call from a famous composer “who dare not be named.”


There is, of course, added poignancy to Boom!, since Larson went on to pen Rent only to die at the age of thirty-five on the night of Rent’s dress rehearsal, thus never having the opportunity to see his dreams come to fruition.


            As Jon, Hanlon brings a nice mixture of wide-eyed eagerness and knowing cynicism to the role, one that he is quite comfortable in since he played it for three seasons at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J. Playing off the exuberance and roller-coaster emotions of Hanlon’s character, Cruz gives a nicely controlled, polished performance as Michael, and Sun, with a voice that tested the strength of the Playhouse’s rafters, not only touches the heart as Susan but does a nice turn as a mega-efficient marketing executive as well as a bubbly actress featured in Jon’s musical.


            All in all, tick, tick…Boom! will send audiences home perhaps not whistling a memorable tune but certainly satisfied. The production runs through Saturday, July 18. For tickets or more information call 227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org.
            This review originally appeared in The Norwalk Citizen News.

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