‘tick, tick … BOOM!’ shines at Theatre Three

‘tick, tick … BOOM!’ shines at Theatre Three

By Julianne Mosher

Before there was Rent, playwright Jonathan Larson had a one-man show drafted on several pieces of paper. A semi-autobiographical account of what it is like to be turning 30 and not having it all figured out, Theatre Three’s latest production is a story of friendship, growth and love in the years leading up to a mid-life crisis.

Beautifully directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, tick, tick… BOOM! features just three actors, but all of whom have a combined talent of a full theatrical ensemble. 

Larson, who is famed for creating Rent, tragically died just before the rock opera show’s opening night at age 35. tick, tick… BOOM! is the show Larson created before Rent was even a thought in the young artists’ mind. 

Originally penned in 1990, the initial production for tick, tick… BOOM! was performed by Larson as a solo show, but after his death in 1996, it was revamped by playwright David Auburn as a three-piece ensemble and premiered off-Broadway in 2001. A film adaptation directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Andrew Garfield as Jon was released by Netflix in 2021. Garfield won an Academy Award for his performance.

Based on Larson’s own life, the show starts off with Jon (Robbie Torres), an aspiring composer, who lives in New York City in 1990. Similar to Larson, he had been trying to make a name for himself in theater since the early 80s and he voices worry that he is turning 30 with no solid future in sight. He lives with his childhood friend, Michael (Jason Furnari), who is a marketing executive — and former actor before he “sold out” — in an apartment in SoHo. Susan (Veronica Fox) is Jon’s girlfriend who is a dancer who “teaches ballet to wealthy and untalented children.”

For years, Jon has been workshopping a musical he wrote called Superbia (which was a real unpublished play written by Larson discovered after his death) and he is nervous about how critics might take it. Susan starts to ask Jon if he’s willing to leave the city as she begins to dream of marriage, kids and Cape Cod. Meanwhile Michael knows Jon needs more stability and helps him snag an interview at his marketing firm. We see Jon’s day-to-day working at the Moondance Diner, catering to annoying tourists and customers as he just tries to finish his shift so he can go back home and continue writing.

Throughout the show, we begin to see the changes in his friends lives while Jon continues to feel stagnant as his 30th birthday nears closer and closer. The anxiety he feels penetrates in his chest and mind going “tick, tick… BOOM!.”

In typical Larson fashion, the set, designed by Randall Parsons, is minimal, but shows the grungy aesthetic that these starving artists were living in during the early 1990s. The cast is able to add furniture in certain scenes to give the appearance of different settings, and as a special treat, the band, which at Theatre Three is typically set off to the side, sits on stage with the cast and is part of the show. 

But what stands out the most are the performances of Torres, Furnari and Fox who work together in such harmony that you’d think the parts they are playing are real life. 

A music-heavy show with no intermission, Torres, Furnari and Fox do an excellent job of memorizing the words of Larson whose lyrics tend to be fast-paced and thought-provoking. A hit number of the night that had the audience applauding was “Therapy,” which features Fox and Torres “arguing” as a couple with two separate choruses intertwined together in a fast-paced rhythm. 

During the show’s opening night, the entire audience gave the cast a standing ovation which will undoubtedly happen again and again for all the upcoming shows. Don’t miss this one.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents tick, tick… BOOM! through March 16. Tickets are $40 adults, $32 seniors and students, $25 children (ages 5 to 12) and Wednesday matinees. The Mainstage season continues with Murder on the Orient Express from April 6 to May 4, and The Producers from May 18 to June 22. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.