The Princeton Summer Theater has opened an ambitious season with Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical rock musical “Tick, Tick … Boom!” in a beautifully realized production.
Before we discuss the show itself, it will be helpful to share a few thoughts about the composer, lyricist, playwright himself. Larson was nearing his 30th birthday when he wrote the work — as a monologue. At that time it had the title “Boho Days.” He was starting to question whether or not he should remain in show business. Some of his questions were aggressive and pointed as he faced his lack of success straight-forwardly and honestly.
He actually performed the work himself — first in New York in 2001, and then on a tour in the U.S.
Now we zip forward five years to a Broadway musical in rehearsal, titled “Rent.” Larson was admitted to a New York hospital for symptoms of a rare heart disease. So rare that the doctors completely misdiagnosed it and sent him home. He returned later, shortly before “Rent” opened, to die.
“Rent” was a huge success; many critics called the show “a new form of musical theater” and quite naturally producers began to ask around for anything else that Larson had written. And, of course, there was this monologue, five years old, just sitting there. It was revised and revamped by playwright David Auburn — this time as a three-character piece — and premiered Off-Broadway in 2001 and on to a U.S. tour, London West End production, then Toronto and on.
This is a lovely, surprisingly gentle evening, despite the hard questions I mentioned. It features a wonderful set by Jeffrey Van Velsor (an enlarged time piece) and beautiful lighting by Alex Mannix (his 17th summer in Princeton) and Megan Berry.
The on-stage quartet of musicians is led by keyboardist Vince di Mura, a local veteran of PST and many other groups. He is joined by Andrew Damian (guitar), Sean Deckler (bass), and Freddie Macarone (drums).
Overseeing the entire production is Victoria Davidjohn. She works as both a director and lighting designer and it shows. In a program note, she pays particular attention to the fact that this “musical posits itself around the topics of loss, disappointment, frustration, and fear in a blatantly humane and honest manner.” It is this understanding that gives the evening so much dignity and power.
The trio of performers — Isaac Piecuch as Jon (Larson), Allison Spann as Susan, and Chibueze Ihuoma as Michael — all sing with wonderful clarity and intelligence, move with extraordinary grace, and communicate with the audience with great ease.
So it is a terrific start to what looks like a fine season. Next up is Wendy Wasserstein’s classic “Uncommon Women and Others” opening on July 12.
Tick, Tick … Boom!, Princeton Summer Theater, Murray Dodge Theater, Princeton University. Through July 8, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $24.50 to $29.50. 732-997-0205 or www.princetonsummertheater.org