Encores! Off-Center — the summertime series of Off-Broadway musicals which last year offered the triumphant production of Jeanine Tesori's Violet which has since transferred to Broadway — began their second season last night with Jonathan Larson's tick, tick... BOOM! Tony Award-winning composer/lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) plays a promising young songwriter, supported by Leslie Odom, Jr. (Leap of Faith, "Smash") and Karen Olivo (In the Heights, West Side Story) performing the other roles.
tick, tick... BOOM! is clearly autobiographical, showing a writer named Jon who is very much like Larson, struggling with life and career on the cusp of his 30th birthday. Larson wrote the show as a one-person "rock monologue," performing it in several workshops in 1990 (just after he turned 30). The musical shows Jon reacting to the disappointingly unsuccessful workshop of a musical called Superbia, based on George Orwell's "1984." (Larson, indeed, wrote a musical called Superbia, which never progressed beyond a 1989 workshop.)
The composer then turned his attention to the musical that became Rent, which had its first staged reading in 1993 and opened at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1996, just after Larson's untimely death at the age of 35. Following the international success of Rent, the tick, tick material was handed to Pulitzer-winning playwright David Auburn (Proof) who formulated it into a three-character musical. The new Larson musical opened in 2001 Off-Broadway at the Jane Street Theatre, where it ran for 215 performances. Raúl Esparza headed the cast, supported by Jerry Dixon and Amy Spanger. Among numerous subsequent productions, Neil Patrick Harris played the leading role in the 2005 London premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
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