Good things come in threes, so the saying goes, and in Manoa Valley Theatre’s Hawaii premiere of “Tick, Tick…BOOM!,” the little off-Broadway musical with genuine appeal, threes matter. A lot.
First: the title is comprised of three words.
Second: there are three in the cast. Jon (short for Jonathan Larson) is portrayed by Taj Gutierrez; Michael, Jon’s buddy and roommate, is enacted by Kimo Kaona; and Susan, Jon’s girlfriend, is played by Emily North. I saw these three last Saturday (March 11), but the three roles are double-cast with three other actors (Moku Durant, Ian Severino and Bianca Tubolino, in selected performances, (March 17 and 19, plus all Saturday matinees).
Third: the performers hop to and from three staging zones — stage left, stage right, and right in the middle. The central floor displays three rugs, for no particular reason. But see, good things come in threes.
Jon is struggling to complete his first show, by the time he’s 30. And the clock is ticking. The angst is mounting. The frustration is elevating stress.
Gutierrez is a revelation, with charismatic presence, a bold and sustaining voice, and an appealing conversational stance – especially in monologues, like he’s taking straight to you. But Guitierrez’ agility also is astounding, as he prances and dances from one staging area to another, never breathless, always in character. Catch him if you can; he makes you a believer that he is a thespian with ambition and hope.
Michael is threatening to move out to a better space, and does, and he has a BMW that reflects his success and lifestyle. He’s got a more sensible analysis of life, so exits the zone of the beleaguered stage wannabe and makes the leap into the business world. Kaona, however, is the kind of a dependable HIV buddy who is loyal to the core, and can still provide a shoulder for his script-writing pal, and puts his dreams of a normal life with wife and family on the back burner.
Meanwhile, Susan wants Jon to move in with her, to eliminate the commute (two subways and a bus trek) and she yearns to get married , relocated to Cape Cod, and stands by her convictions and challenges Jon to make firm decisions.
Set in 1990 in New York, “Tick, Tick…BOOM! Is personal, precise, minimalist and autobiographical, a portrait of a cliched Broadway wannabe, with that dire goal to finish a show by his 30th birthday. The dream puts more pressure on himself that undermines his day-to-day doings. Jon waits tables at a diner; his role model of efficiency and success is Stephen Sondheim, the prolific and legendary songwriter, whose name Jon only “mouths,” not utters, and SS commits to come to the workshop if and when Jon completes his play.
Jon is abundantly disappointed, when workshop attendees don’t include a producer or two who might take a chance on staging the show, but at Jon’s birthday party thrown by Susan, he gets a phone call and message from Sondheim that he doesn’t respond to. Part of Sondheim’s wisdom: Jon’s finished his first play, but he should immediately engage in his second. Argh!
Elyse Takashige’s set design strips the shoebox theater into a one-scene “open” space, with no second-level acting space, with four musicians, including pianist-musical director Jenny Shiroma, who are literally part of the action, like a studio unit with the three principal “band” instruments of bass, guitar and drums. There are stand-up mikes that augment the body mikes of the performers, resembling a recording studio.
Director-choreographer Mathais Maas is tasked with more direction than dancing, maintaining a balance of staging his principals in the trio of work spaces.
An off-Broadway production featured Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jon, who had his own dreams and bouts with creativity without the binding deadlines. Miranda directed last year’s film version of “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” starring Andrew Garfield as Jon, in an expanded screenplay and a delicious roster of real-life Broadway luminaries in splendid cameos.
In this stage telling, as in the film, Jon’s debt to Sondheim is reflected in the song, “Sunday,” which is a tribute Sondheim’s trademark “Sunday in the Park With George.” It is one of two stellar contributions in the score; the other is the profound “Larger Than Words,” delivered by all three actors as a “company” number that brings down the final curtain.
A footnote: Jon did complete a second production, “Rent,” which would become his signaaure show. On the eve of its debut, he died from an aortic aneurysm, so ironically, he never got to live or enjoy the riches of hurrahs and successes (like the Tony Awards) that tick-tick-boomed in his soul.
In the end, Jonathan Larson’s plays numbered three – “Siberbia,” “Tick, Tick … BOOM!” and “Rent.”
See, threes matter. ..
And that’s Show Biz. …
A pop-rock musical by Jonathan Larson
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre
Tickets: $24 to $44, fees included; discounts available for seniors and youths, at https://www.manoavalleytheatre.com/shows-tickets