Lots of talent, and heart, on display in George Street Playhouse’s ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’

tick boom review


Daniel Marconi and Cathryn Wake co-star in “Tick, Tick… Boom!,” which is being presented by George Street Playhouse at The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.

Jon is in, as he puts it, his “extremely late 20s.” In other words, he’s about to turn 30. He is also an aspiring theatrical composer, though he has yet to have one of his musicals fully produced.

“I have been ‘promising’ for so long that I’m afraid I am starting to break the fucking promise,” he says.

Jon is the hero of the late Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical “Tick, Tick… Boom!,” which is currently being presented by The George Street Playhouse at The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. Like Larson’s better-known “Rent,” it depicts the lives of young artists living Bohemian lives in downtown New York, in the George H. W. Bush Era, with tons of creativity in the air, but remuneration for that creativity in short supply, and AIDS looming.

I have seen this musical before, and the Jon character struck me, then, as — to quote my review — “so whiny and self-involved you wonder how anyone else puts up with him.” But I didn’t see him that way this time, thanks largely, I think, to the low-key, boyish charm of the actor playing him, Daniel Marconi. I enjoyed this one-act, 90-minute production much more than I did that one — or, for that matter, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2021 film version.

“Tick, Tick… Boom!” was never fully produced in Larson’s lifetime. His next project, of course, was “Rent,” but he died, at 35, of an undiagnosed heart defect the morning that “Rent” previewed off-Broadway. With “Rent” becoming such a sensation, “Tick, Tick… Boom!” debuted, finally, in 2001, off-Broadway, and ran at the George Street Playhouse in 2004. David Saint, George Street Playhouse’s artistic director then and now, directed that production, and this one as well. He actually helped Larson develop the play, too; his history with Larson is detailed in the production’s program.


John Yi in “Tick, Tick… Boom!”

It’s a three-person play. Cathryn Wake plays Susan — Jon’s girlfriend, a ballet dancer who supports herself by teaching dance to “wealthy and untalented children,” but is thinking about giving up on New York and moving to the burbs, with or without Jon. John Yi, exuding an adult determination that is more or less the opposite of Jon’s youthful insecurity, plays Jon’s best friend Michael, who was once an aspiring actor, but has given that up for a lucrative career as a market research executive. Wake and Yi play other, smaller roles as well.

There are lots of clever songs here, including “Therapy,” where Jon and Susan discuss their relationship in psychobabble (“I was afraid that you’d be afraid/If I told you that I was afraid of intimacy/If you don’t have a problem with my problem/Maybe the problem’s simply co-dependency”); the song starts slow but gets faster and faster, ending in almost incomprehensible, manic patter. And then there is “No More,” a rapturous rock ode to Michael’s new, upscale lifestyle (“Hello, to my walk-in closets/Tidy as Park Avenue/Hello, my butcher block table/I could get used to you”).

“Sunday” is about a typical day at the diner where Jon works. (He does so to make ends meet; “Everyone we know wants to do something else,” he says.) It is written in the style of the song of the same name from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park With George,” and was intended as an homage to Sondheim, who was something of a mentor to Larson.


From left, Cathryn Wake, Daniel Marconi and John Yi in “Tick, Tick… Boom!”

“Tick, Tick… Boom!” may be mainly about the mundane frustrations and small victories in the life of a struggling artist, but by the end, there is tragedy, and poetry, in the mix as well. We also get to see an excerpt from Jon’s science fiction magnum-opus-in-progress “Suburbia,” followed by an encouraging response by Sondheim, heard in a phone message.

I’m not so sure, though, about the wisdom of having one of your musical’s big ballads, “Come to Your Senses,” delivered by a character in a play-within-a-play (played by Wake).

So, yes, “Tick, Tick… Boom!” has its questionable quirks. But still, I found this production very satisfying, overall.

I previously have thought that this musical was interesting only as a footnote to the more ambitious “Rent,” but I now think about it a little differently, and will argue that it can, and should, stand on its own, with no qualifications necessary.

George Street Playhouse will present “Tick, Tick… Boom!” at The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center through May 19. Visit georgestreetplayhouse.org.


Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.


Custom Amount

Personal Info

Donation Total: $20.00

Leave a Comment

Sign up for our Newsletter