Artswatch Review

‘Tick, Tick … Boom!’ is the bomb

Triangle scores big with Jonathan Larson's musical about turning 30. Now, to get some 29-year-olds in the audience.


I can imagine the conversation already:

“Are you saying it bombed, Mom? Meaning it’s bad?”

“No, Honey, I’m saying it’s the bomb, which means it’s fantastic! Right? Am I saying that right?”

Triangle Productions’ version of Tick, Tick…Boom!—RENT creator Jonathan Larson’s poignant, hilarious autobiographical musical about turning 30—is a near-perfect production of a surprisingly evergreen story, starring a trio of “triple threats”: Drew Harper, Danielle Purdy, and TriPro mainstay James Sharinghousen. It resonates well enough with the company’s loyal senior following; now will some more 29-year-olds please go see it? If you won’t take that recommendation from Mom, take it from ArtsWatch.

Jon (played by Harper) is an aspiring Broadway musical writer who moonlights as a waiter. He’s staring down the double barrel of his 30th birthday and his perceived lack of achievement. His girlfriend Susan (Purdy) is threatening to hang up her dreams of being a big-time dancer and move to a quieter suburb, and his best friend Michael has recently quit acting for a steady and lucrative corporate gig and begun to revel in material pleasures like his new BMW and fancy apartment. WillLarson—ahem, I mean “Jon”—keep holding out for artistic glory, or follow his dearest companions into socially accepted adulthood? He spends a lot of time brooding about this decision while standing on a symbolic pedestal…or is it a precipice?

Harper shines as the insecure-but-charming Jon. His timing is bang-on; his faces and gestures are priceless. He also deftly navigates the show’s tricky moments of fluid staging, like when he must switch abruptly from confiding in the audience to addressing them as attendees of his fictional workshop production, “Superbia.” Purdy—always exceptional at presenting stiff-jawed resolve through waiflike frailty—makes a great Susan, and her chemistry with Harper crackles. Their makeout scenes are especially playful, punctuated by little grabs, nips and greedy, flickering glances. Sharinghousen as Michael comes off at first—no doubt intentionally—as a smug stuffed shirt, gradually loosening up over the course of the show to reveal his affection for Jon, and eventually breaking under the stress of his own suppressed burdens. When Jon recounts the details of their lifelong friendship during the bro-mantic ballad “Why?,” even the guitarist from the excellent onstage live band (David Cole) seems to have trouble keeping his eyes dry.

Larson, who hams up his idolization of Stephen Sondheim, certainly picked up the legendary Broadway songwriter’s knack for “finishing the hat.” It’s delightful to hear how well he complements the themes of the songs with their cadence, melody, and instrumentation. In No More, while Michael shows off the “pleasantly robotic” apartment he’s earned as a corporate drone, he sings the verses in monotone, then indulges with Jon in minuet waltz interludes (where the pair’s choreography playfully mimics gentility) and exultant rock choruses (while they crow over how much his new digs rock). In Therapy, as Susan and Jon struggle to stick to “I” statements through their mounting frustration with each other, the score grinds into a stilted, redundant call-response: “I [pause] feel [pause] badly about you [pause] feeling [pause] badly about me…”

The character of Jon (and surely the Jonathan who penned him) claims to want to eventually write “the Hair of my generation.” I’d say Jonathan Larson succeeded, and it’s RENT. (Unfortunately, Larson passed away tragically of an undiagnosed medical condition the night before RENT opened off-Broadway.) RENT, like Hair, is idealistic, grandiose, zeitgeisty and ultimately dated. Every generation needs a “Hair of its generation,” because Hair is (ahem) impermanent. What’s “the Hairof this generation, you ask? Probably Glee, making Cory Monteith the real-life Claude of our time. But I digress, because Tick, Tick…Boom! is something different. Its simplicity, sparseness, and self-referential humor help it transcend one time or place—with the notable but forgivable exception of the song 30/90, which makes direct reference to the year 1990. Otherwise, it must be as fresh now as ever. The 27-year-old friend I brought certainly thought so.

What remains a puzzler is how Triangle Productions can offer such variable plays, but such rock-solid musicals. Wouldn’t the latter be harder? All I can say is, Triangle’s Kiss of the Spider Womanwas killer, and its Tick, Tick…Boom! is a direct hit. Run, don’t walk, to Tick, Tick…Boom!




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

 Special to The Oregonian 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.

Portland Stage Reviews 


by Dennis Nyback • MusicalsReviewsTheatre • Tags: broadwaydon hornrenttick tick boom,triangle productions

Tick Tick Boom, a Triangle Productions presentation at the  Sanctuary 1785 NE Sandy, through September 27, is an autobiographical musical by Jonathon Larson.  It is set in 1990.  It takes place in the days leading up to Mr. Larson’s thirtieth birthday.  The tick tick is the clock in his head that reminds him that he is now older than his father was when he was born, that many others, including Napoleon, had accomplished great things before they were 30, that his great plans had not come to fruition, that his life was tick tick ticking away with his dreams unrealized.

Mr. Larson  first performed the piece as a one man play called “Boho Days” on September 6, 1990, two days after his own thirtieth birthday. The tick tick turned out to be more than  sophomorically mordant. A little over five years later Jonathon Larson dropped dead..  Our knowledge of Mr. Larson’s premature death colors the viewing of this play.  In the year after  his death on January 25, 1996  his dramatic musical “Rent” moved from Off Broadway to Broadway. It swept the Tony Awards garnering  him posthumous awards for best Musical, best Book, and best Score. On Broadway “Rent” ran for twelve years.  It has been produced all over the world and made into a movie. Jonathon Larson was also posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Tick Tick Boom was developed into a three person musical by Victoria Leacock and David Auburn in 2001.  Victoria Leacock  was Mr. Larson’s friend and lover who in 1989 produced a concert version of his work “Supurbia,” it was a rock and roll updating of George Orwell’s 1984.  She also produced productions of Boho Days at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village and the Second Stage Theater on the New York’s Upper West Side. Boho Days was written as a reaction to the disappointment of “Supurbia” not being fully mounted as a play.  Tick Tick Boom  also features  Jonathon’s troubled relationship with Victoria and his troubled relationship with his long time friend Matthew O;Grady.

There is no curtain at at the Sanctuary. The clever set never changes. It consists of a bed, with a keyboard on a desk in front of it, at downstage right. At stage left two Eames chairs come in for versatile use. They become the front seats of a BMW automobile.  They are chairs in a boardroom. They are chairs in a diner. Part of the set are four musicians. Upstage right is the musical director Jonathon Quesenberry at a keyboard. To his left is the guitarist David Cole.  Playing electric bass is W.A. Fletcher Nemeth.  Upstage left is the drummer William James Norris-York.

In this production Jon is played by Drew Haren. He works very hard from beginning to end and is never off stage.  All of Drew’s costume changes are on stage in plain view. His monologues carry the plot along. He also sings, by himself, or with the others, twelve of the thirteen songs in the show. He has a good voice and is well up to the songs challenges. The show is ninety minutes with no intermission.

The role of Michael, based on Matthew O’Grady,  is played by James Sharinghousen. Mr. Sharinghousen has an open face and an affable manner. He also has a nice singing voice.

The role of Susan, based on Victoria Leacock,  is played by Danielle Purdy.   She also doubles in the part of Caressa  in the show within the show of the one performance of “Supurbia.”  Her one solo song is in the part of Caressa.   It is the power ballad “Come to Your Senses.”  She also sings the songs “Green Dress” and  “Therapy” with Jon and also sings on five other ensemble songs. Her voice is up the task.

The show is well directed by Don Horn.  It moves smartly along and is well choreographed and staged.

The best part of the production is the band.  They are never off stage and also contribute dialogue in a couple of scenes. Led by Mr. Quesenberry they played with gusto and appeared to be enjoying their work.  They got as much as they could out of the score.  Most of the songs start slow and build to a climax in standard Power Ballad style.  The audience I saw the show with on Saturday 9/6 rose to their feet in applause at the end.


Drew Harper                  Jon

Danielle Purdy              Susan

James Sharinghousen    Michael


Jonathon Quesenberry           Keyboard

William James Norris-York   Drums/Percussion

David Cole                            Guitar

W.A. Fletcher Nemeth           Bass


Jonathon Larson              Book, Music, Lyrics

Don Horn                         Direction

Sara Martins                    Choreography

Jonathon Quesenberry     Musical Direction

David Auburn                  Script Consultant

Stephen Oremus              Vocal Arrangements & Orchestrations


Originally Produced off-Broaday in June, 2001 by

Victoria Leacock, Robyn Goodman, Dede Harris, Lorie Cowen Levy, Beth Smith


Willamette Week Loves Us!

September 8th, 2014 | by PENELOPE BASS Arts & Books | Posted In: Theater

Just Opened: Tick, Tick... Boom!

A review of Jonathan Larson's musical at Triangle Productions.


Tags: Just Openedtheater reviewTriangle Productions

Jonathan Larson is feeling anxious. He’s about to turn 30 and is still waiting tables in New York while struggling to get his long-slaved-over rock musical produced. Of course, he did ultimately succeed in getting a rock show on Broadway, but not before his untimely death at age 35. You’ve probably heard of it. That show was Rent. But before his work became widely known, Larson wrote Tick, Tick… Boom!, an autobiographical show based on his own years of struggle that's currently being staged atTriangle Productions.

Similar to Rent in style and tone, the show punctuates Larson’s daily life with guitar-heavy rock numbers as the three-person cast belts out catchy melodies both serious (“Johnny Can’t Decide”) and frivolous (“Sugar,” about Jon’s addiction to Twinkies). Taking the lead and narrating the majority of the show, Drew Harper is spot-on as Jon, whose neurotic anxiety proves mostly endearing and wholly relatable. New York City in the ‘90s could be easily swapped for Portland today, with a rising tide of young creatives contending for success. The beautifully voiced Danielle Purdy and James Sharinghousen admirably fill the two supporting roles and a handful of others. While it’s hard not to compare the show against Rent, this production still stands as a moving homage to a talented composer who eventually achieved the fame for which he struggled so long, even if he never got to witness it.

GO: Tick, Tick... Boom! is at the Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., 239-5919. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through Sept. 27. $15-$35. Tickets here.

By popular demand, Portland actress Wendy Westerwelle gets back on stage

By Tom Hallman Jr. | 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on July 30, 2014 at 3:30 PM, updated July 30, 2014 at 4:52 PM

When Portland actress Wendy Westerwelle -- a legend in the theater community -- wrote a one-woman show last year, she had no idea if it would soar or flop when it debuted.

The show, called "Medicare-Fully Fabulous," was a deeply personal story that opens with Westerwelle in a hospital bed, admitting she'd hit bottom, broken emotionally, physically and spiritually.

It was a hit.

Held at Triangle Productions-Sanctuary Theater, 1785 N.E. Sandy Blvd., the play sold out during its two-month run last winter. Westerwelle sang, danced and took the crowd on a journey that was funny, painful, powerful and empowering.

The director and production manager, bowing to customer calls, asked if she'd do four more performances. After taking a break, relaxing and traveling to Europe, she got back to Portland, worked out the kinks and scheduled four performances for Aug. 8-9 and Aug. 15-16. Shows start at 7:30 p.m. with tickets ranging from $15 to $30.

"I had to do this again," she said with a laugh. "People have told me the play changed their lives because it deals with growing old, our bodies and how we think about them."

Westerwelle, 66, said after one performance an audience member asked to meet her.

"She said she had cancer and only a few weeks to live," said Westerwelle. "She said she wanted to go out with her friends and laugh. She died a few weeks after coming to the show. It blew my mind. It was such an honor that she came to see me."

When the show ends, Westerwelle will turn her attention to another one-woman show, also at Triangle Productions.

"It's on Dr. Ruth Westheimer," Westerwelle said. "She was a Holocaust survivor who fought the Nazis. There is funny stuff in it, but it is not a comedy."

Westerwelle said at this stage of her long career she wants to do work that's meaningful.

"I'm too old to get up on stage just to be up there," she said. "It has to matter to the audience and to me."

--Tom Hallman Jr.



OMG...It's The Donnie Show!



Hilarious and saucy, Triangle Productions welcomes The Donnie Show back to the stage for an evening that combines elements of song, dance, and a talk show.

After a raunchy introduction from the fictional sex advice columnist Sandy Cane, Founder and Director of Triangle Productions Don Horn (Donnie) was ushered in by "The Donettes", a trio of dancers remeniscent of The Supremes. Each performance of the show promises to be different from the last with rotating interviewees, musical performances, and comedic bits. Friday night's performance was its penultimate with special guests Corey Brunish and Margie Boulé.

Corey Brunish is a two time Tony award winner who is producing six shows on Broadway. On the show he discussed the challenges and benefits of living between Portland and New York City and helping to connect talent from the two cities. You may know Margie Boulé from a number of different fields: as a co-host of AM Northwest in the 70s and 80s, a writer for the Oregonian, and a performer in one hundred different shows in fifty years of acting. She decribed her transition from working in radio and television to working on stage and performed a compilation of musical numbers from shows she's always wanted to play.

The Donnie Show is a return to the sketch and variety shows of the 70s like (as the playbill suggests) The Ed Sullivan Show and Laugh In. A highlight from that evening's show was the informal talent show where members of the audience competed against each other for prizes. Without much prompting from Donnie, singers, contortionists, comedians and more seemed to come out of the woodwork to display their talents. It was refreshing to see people so unafraid to put themselves out there. In another bit, the audience played a version of The Price is Right where we compared the price of an item you can get at The Dollar Tree to its brand name equivalent at drugstores and supermarkets. The audience shouted out prices winning items like Vitamins, gas relievers, and hemmeroid cream. If to describe this show in one word, it would be "zany".

The Donnie Show is performing its last show of the season tonight, June 28th at The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza. The show starts at 7:30 PM. Tickets and more information at


Dennis Sparks loves us! Here's his review, and you can find it here.

Hereeeees, Donnie!

This original production is conceived and directed and designed by Don Horn, Triangle’s Executive Director and Founder.  It runs through June 22nd at their site at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd.  For more information, go to their site or call 503-239-5919.

I have to confess that without a program a reviewer is somewhat lost.  So, if I get names, dates, titles of songs, wrong or missing, etc., I apologize.  But, with that in mind, on with the “really big shew,” as Mr. Sullivan would say.  Yes, this is a type of talk/variety show that might have existed 40+ years ago.  It is a bit of afternoon talk show, via Merv, or the edgier, late-night variety, via Johnny.

And, since there really is no story, and much of it is made up on the spot, my review will chronologically   go through the show, giving a rating for each segment.  One * meaning Poor, up to five ***** meaning Excellent.  The pre-show had Donnie’s side-kick and Musical Director, the fabulous, Jonathan Quesenberry and his band (who must remain nameless because, as mentioned, no program).  But they did a good job of warming up the audience.
My favorite moment being a rendition of “Memories” from Cats.  Band rating ****

 Then we move into the lowest point of the show, a comedian called “Craig Tamblyn” (sp?) came out and did a comic (?) routine of what is called “blue” material, or X-rated jokes.  It fell flat, as evidenced by the only occasional titters from the audience.  It would barely get * and that is because it was probably a gal dressed up as a guy telling sexist jokes about women…interesting.  But the good thing is that the show goes uphill from here.

The Donnettes (Dana Thompson, Lydia Fleming & Jalena Montrond) appeared throughout the show doing their best Supremes aping and were terrific.  Lovely to look at and listen to ***  All these acts are interspersed with Donnie (Don Horn), the show’s host, chatting with guests, discussing topical issues of the day, introducing acts, and kibitzing with his sidekick, Quesenberry.  But more about Donnie later….

Then came the fabulous James Shareninghousen, reprising a song his alter-ego did, a type of Muppet, from their extraordinary,Avenue Q.  They have reprised this show once, both to mostly sold-out houses and promise to do it again.  Mr. S. is always good ****  Then a young fellow named David came on and did a number, “In the Box,” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch ***  He said he was auditioning for the lead, as Don says he may produce it some season.  He’s got my vote. 

And then there is the ever popular, Golda (Wendy Westerwelle), from the many, essentially one-person shows she does every season, talking about her husband, Saul, and her many views on people and life ****  She’s wonderful and very funny!  And “Angel” a “female illusionist” or drag queen, belted out a couple of numbers that rocked the house.  Especially fine was the number, “Big Spender,” fromSweet Charity.  ***

Gary Wayne Cash, who I’ve touted in a couple of my reviews of him, is always an asset to a show.  He and (I’m just guessing now on his partner name) Lisa Marie Harrison (?) did a number from Jonathon Larson’s play, tick, tick…boom, (which will be done next season at Triangle) the author of the award-winning, Rent.  Cash also did an impromptu number of a woman’s song, “Adele’s Lament,” fromGuys and Dolls.  A super actor and performer ****  Mitch, from the band, who plays 50+ instruments, was involved with a couple of semi-solo numbers and played a Shami-san (sp?), a sort of three-stringed, Japanese guitar, strummed with what looked like a type of carving knife.  And he played a number on a coffee cup, too.  Super talent ***

There were also audience-participation games, such as a variation of the card game War, where you might get damp if you were sitting in the wrong place, and a guess-the-price game, where one had to guess the real price of an item which, at the Dollar Store, was only a buck.  Fun. **  Then, a surprise ending, which I won’t reveal, in which a mirror ball was involved and Donnie appeared unlike his usual self.  A fun end to a fun evening.

Did I forget anything?  Oh, yes, Horn’s rating *************************************  He’s a treasure and deserves everyone of those stars!  His plays have always been entertaining, of a very professional quality, and also extremely thought-provoking!  Maybe we’ll see him again onstage someday.  Pass the word, his shows are not to be missed!

I recommend this show but it is very adult in content and language.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.