"Director Don Horn has pulled together a marvelous cast..."

'Rent' creator Jonathan Larson examines turning 30 in 'Tick, Tick...Boom!'

By Holly Johnson | Special to The Oregonian 
on September 13, 2014 at 1:30 PM, updated September 13, 2014 at 1:32 PM

The clock is ticking. The calendar is flipping in the wind. In the late Jonathan Larson's powerful autobiographical musical "Tick, Tick ... Boom!," currently at Triangle Productions, time is striding along way too fast.

Jon (played by Drew Harper), an aspiring composer of musicals, is just turning 30 when the play begins, and he 's battered about by life-changing questions: Should he give up on striving to create a ground-breaking musical and find a good-paying job like his friend Michael (James Sharinghousen)? Should he settle down with his girlfriend Susan (Danielle Purdy) and start a family, or should he stick with composing despite poverty and uncertainty?

Larson is best-known for "Rent," which won a Pulitzer Prize and three Tony Awards in the mid-90s. The night before the off-Broadway premiere of this revolutionary hit, he died suddenly of an aortic dissection believed to have been caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome.

"Tick, Tick," which won the 2002 Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway musical, was set, written and composed in 1990, a year the author calls "conservative and complacent," and was originally performed by Larson as a rock monologue, that very year he turned 30. Later, it was reconfigured to use three actors.

Acid rock, punk rock, heart-wrenching ballads, a little country western, and a smattering of Latin rhythms all work together to create a well-rounded evening of high-energy songs, some which echo the tunes and phrasing in "Rent. Both shows center on youth, young creativity and the problems that beset the young in the '90s, including AIDS and poverty. 

Director Don Horn has pulled together a marvelous cast in Harper, Sharinghousen and Purdy. The latter two don't only play Michael, Jon's long-time best pal, and his girl, Susan, but also an assortment of other quick sketches, including Jon's acerbic New York agent and his loving dad.

Highlights: "Johnny Can't Decide" at the show's beginning is a crowd-pleaser, a number with likable harmonies belted by the entire cast, although the lyrics are scarcely clever, but to the point. Later,  "No More," a piece with delicious punk drive about Michael's new ritzy high-rise apartment, is melodically appealing and lots of fun ("Hello to dear Mr. Doorman, who looks like Captain Kangaroo").

Low notes: Because all the actors are miked in the intimate Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, sometimes the sound felt abrasive, as in the number "Sugar," where Jon confesses to his Twinkie addiction. Still, the charming little line dance the cast performed as part of the song made up for it.

Most valuable performer: Because Harper has the lion's share of songs and dramatic moments, he's the star here and really carries the show with a strong personality, plenty of appeal and a super voice.

Line of the night: "It's hard for people born after 1960 to be idealistic." Hmm.

Best moment: The final tableau vivant, around a birthday celebration.

Biggest surprise: Purdy's lovely delivery of the urgent, tender ballad "Come to Your Senses" toward the show's end.

Praise also goes to musical director Jonathan Quesenberry, who delivered some beautifully crafted keyboard work, and was joined by three other musicians onstage. The show runs 90 minutes without intermission.