Raúl Esparza (The Rocky Horror Show) and Amy Spanger (Kiss Me, Kate) are the songwriter and his girlfriend, respectively, in the Off Broadway debut of the late Jonathan Larson's reflective three-actor musical, tick, tick...BOOM!, beginning May 23.
Jerry Dixon plays the pal of the songwriter in the autobiographical musical; Spanger and Dixon also play other people in the life a struggling musical theatre writer named Jonathan. A band will also be on hand, at the Jane Street Theatre. Scott Schwartz (Bat Boy, Jane Eyre) directs. Stephen Oremus is musical director.
On the edge of 30, lyricist-composer-librettist Larson wrote about a character at the edge of 30, at the crossroads: His girl wants to marry, his pal is a successful businessman, and the songwriter wants to change the course of American musical theatre (but he's waiting tables).
tick, tick first emerged in 1990, but never got fully produced. Larson did, of course, eventually cause shock waves in theatre, in 1996, when his rock opera Rent won the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. He died of an undiagnosed heart ailment prior to the show's Off Broadway debut. It moved to Broadway after its sold-out run at New York Theatre Workshop. Rent celebrated its fifth anniversary April 29.
Rent fans are expected to be especially interested in the "new" show. Official opening is June 13 at the Greenwich Village venue that was once home to the unique rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Pulitzer Prize-winner David Auburn is script consultant for the show, which had been seen in various stages in readings or workshops starring Larson. Spanger played frisky Lois Lane/Bianca in Kiss Me, Kate for more than a year after that revival opened in late 1999, and Esparza rocked as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show at Circle-in the Square Theatre this season. Dixon appeared in Once on This Island, Five Guys Named Moe, Bright Lights, Big City and more.
The show was first performed by Larson under the title Boho Days (billed as a "rock monologue with band") Sept. 6-9, 1990, in a workshop at Second Stage. He revised the developing piece following Second Stage, and the title was changed to tick, tick...BOOM! and presented with Larson as performer in 1991 at the Village Gate (with college pal Victoria Leacock producing), and then later in 1992 and 1993 in the "O Solo Mio" fests at New York Theatre Workshop. The Off-Broadway script is an adaptation by playwright David Auburn (Proof), drawing on Larson's various drafts.
Boho Days was aspiring commercial producer Jeffrey Seller's introduction to Larson. Theatrical booking agent Seller would go on to produce Larson's Rent.
The rock 'n' roll narrative of tick, tick... was written to be performed by one man and a trio of musicians: 12 monologues and 12 songs. There were several versions of the show over the years, producer Robyn Goodman said, and the number of songs in each version varied. Musical numbers over the years included "Theatre Is Dead," "Louder Than Words," "Why" and "Sunday," among others.
Amy Asch, an archivist for the Larson papers, told Playbill On-Line Larson had the style of monologists Eric Bogosian and Spalding Gray in mind when he was creating the unique musical.
Goodman is partnering with producers Victoria Leacock, Dede Harris, Lorie Cowen Levy and Beth Smith.
Leacock and Goodman were both involved in the early workshops of tick, tick...BOOM! at Second Stage and encouraged Larson to continue developing the show. Around the same time, he was writing Rent.
"It's like getting to revisit an old friend," Leacock previously told Playbill On-Line. "It's totally a snapshot of his life and time and my life and time. I'm so psyched it's at the Jane Street Theatre. It's an old funky, arty theatre space with high ceilings; it used to be a seaman's meeting room." Larson, she said, would have loved the 274-seat venue.
The little-known tick, tick...BOOM! is "a precursor to Rent," Goodman said. "The character's name is Jonathan and it's all about him being a composer and changing the face of musical theatre, which is what Jon was. It's a little story about a crisis in his life. It has a little more of musical theatre feel than Rent."
"Victoria and I have a talked about [producing the show before], but the wound has been so fresh that it didn't seem the time to do it," Goodman said. "But it's part of his canon, and there's so little of it. I am so proud to do these songs."
The musical is set in 1990 and "has somewhat of a late '80s feel," musically, Goodman said. She called it a "rock play" that is very character-specific. The message, however, is universal: "The show is about the courage it takes to follow your dream."
Tickets are $20-$50. Jane Street Theatre is at 113 Jane Street (between West and Washington streets) in Manhattan. For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200.