By STEFANIE SEARS
For Montclair Local
‘tick, tick… BOOM!’
By Jonathan Larson
Montclair Operetta Club
Nov. 10, 11, 8 p.m., Nov. 12, 2 p.m.
Westminster Arts Center, Bloomfield College, 449 Franklin St.
Jonathan Larson is best known for creating the 1990s favorite rock musical “Rent,” which follows the story of impoverished and struggling Bohemian artists living through the AIDS epidemic. That play won won a Pulitzer and three Tony Awards, and was adapted for a 2005 movie.
However, before he wrote “Rent,” Larson penned an earlier work, “tick, tick… BOOM!,” about a man named Jon.
According to liner notes in the CD written by Larson’s father, the piece is autobiographical. It’s set in 1990. At age 30, the character Jon questions his life choices to break into the performing arts industry.
Larson performed it as a solo show in the ’90s.
Montclair Operetta Club presents “tick, tick… BOOM!” through Sunday, Nov. 12, as its fall 2017 production. The show stars Gonzalo Valencia as Jon, along with Danielle Meola and Marcus Turnage who play Susan and Michael, among other characters.
Director Bob Cline, speaking by telephone after the show opened last weekend, said that it’s unusual that the main character Jon plays piano onstage.
Valencia, who also serves as the show’s music director, has himself recently turned 30, Cline said. Because he is similar to Jon in both age and musical experience, he can relate to the character.
“He just turned 30 three months ago and he’s a wonderful composer, so he knows all about this character,” Cline said with a laugh. “He knows every emotion this guy goes through. Even in the rehearsal process, Gonzalo would run into some emotional stuff. He didn’t expect just how true it was to his life. Once you get past memorizing the words, they become yours.
“He realized how much those words were his. It’s pretty wonderful to watch.”
After Larson died in 1996, playwright David Auburn was consulted to revamp the play. It premiered Off-Broadway in 2001
and has had many other productions since.
“tick, tick… BOOM!” is Cline’s 20th directing credit for MOC. He is a faculty member for the BFA Musical Theatre Program at Pace University, and founder of Bob Cline Casting in New York City. For MOC’s fall production last year he directed “A Chorus Line,” which also portrays the uncertainty of young adults trying to break into the performing arts industry.
Larson’s show reflects a deep disillusionment felt by people who were his age, born in 1960 or later, Cline said, quoting one of Jon’s speeches about the times: 1990 is “conservative, complacent, obtuse, and unimaginative. Has turning 30 always sucked or is our generation different? Because we’ve never grown up. We’ve never had a real test, a Depression, a world war, or Vietnam.”
This play debuted three months before 9/11 so, “We do have a reason to grow up.”
It’s not a feel-good show, necessarily, Cline said. But that’s OK.
“Now there’s some shows like ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ that you don’t maybe leave happy but you leave changed. But that’s what theater should do,” Cline said. “It should make you feel something.”