“tick, tick … BOOM!” by BoHo Theatre


“Looks more like a concert-style staging,” I wrote in my notepad Sunday at the start of BoHo Theatre’s new production of the late Jonathan Larson’s “tick, tick … BOOM!,” before crossing out the sentence. I’d realized that this pre-”Rent” musical actually was penned to look that way, before Lin-Manuel Miranda directed, expanded and elevated the piece into surely the best movie adaptation ever made about the agony and ecstasy of creative desire, insecurity and determination.

Aside from that Netflix film, made with buckets of love by a fellow Broadway romantic, I’d not seen “tick, tick … BOOM!” since 2012, when Porchlight Theatre produced this musical (very much about the dread of turning 30) in the face of an opening night hailstorm raining down on the roof of the theater as if an expressionistic manifestation of this autobiographical show’s internal struggle.

It’s a show to which Chicago’s young theater artists long have related: I remember a musically spectacular 2006 Pegasus Players version with future “Jersey Boy” Michael Ingersoll, Jess Godwin and Quinton Guyton; and even a terrific 2003 tour downtown directed by Scott Schwartz. Given that Larson died at 35 of an aortic aneurysm in 1996, an incalculable loss, the show has (for those of us who admired him so much) long been freighted with emotion.

BoHo’s production, directed by Bo Frazier, is billed as an “all trans and gender-nonconforming production” and, toward the end, the show’s anthemic number “Louder than Words,” becomes a celebration of the aspirations of that community (”cages or wings, which do you prefer?”). It’s a contemporary application in terms of explicit terminology, of course, and it chooses not to worry about evoking the very real people Larson was writing about in the AIDS era. But the concept (if that’s the right word) is legitimately rooted in Larson’s nonconformist East Village 1990s milieu.

Luke Halpern as Susan in "tick, tick … BOOM!" at BoHo Theatre.

Larson, of course, was something of an interloper from White Plains; I think, were he still alive, he’d have liked the idea of his show now being used to celebrate folks with a far longer East Village history and heritage than he had himself. With that in mind, TGNC audience members get in for $12.

On opening weekend, the young cast members in the show had a ways to go, musically. More specifically, the three lead performers Crystal Claros (Michael), Alec Phan (Jonathan) and Luke Halpern (Susan) all felt much more secure when singing alone than when performing together. I think that all just needs more work on harmonics and mutual interaction; the hearts and passions are there, especially when the actors face outward and don’t disappear too much into themselves. That’s also true more generally of the show; what Frazier is trying to do here will work better when they increases togetherness and vulnerability.

I’d also beef up the volume a bit more, helping Phan’s young voice — this is, after all, a rock musical wherein Larson was taking on boring old Broadway, even as it was always the locus of his dreams.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

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Review: “tick, tick … BOOM!” (2.5 stars)

When:Through Feb. 5

Where: BoHo Theatre at Edge Theatre, 5451 N. Broadway

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Tickets: $35 at bohotheatre.com

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