tick, tick ... BOOM!


Reviewed by

Brad Hathaway


Running time: 1:40 - no intermission

t A Potomac Stages Pick

for a rousing rock musical
 with three fabulous performances

Memo to the producers of Jonathan Larson's Rent on Broadway: get down here and see Stephen Gregory Smith tear up the house at MetroStage in the starring role of Jonathan Larson's other musical. Then, the next time you need a replacement for the star on Broadway, you'll know where to find one. Smith has been a reliable and often marvelous supporting actor in musicals at Signature, Toby's, Ford's and Arena for the past five years. He even walked away with a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his superb work in Signature's 110 In The Shade. Now he gets a starring role and does he gives it everything he's got! His isn't the only outstanding performance in this one-act, three-person rock music inspired musical. Holding the stage with him are the often impressive Felicia Curry, who continues her growth as a commanding musical theater performer, and a new face for local musical fans, Matt Pearson. The three establish a sense of partnership as they work their way through the dozen songs that constitute the heart of this touching musical.


Storyline: As his thirtieth birthday approaches, a struggling composer living in a dilapidated apartment in the SoHo district of Manhattan, waiting on tables at a Greenwich Village diner while writing songs for musicals he hopes will merge musical theater and rock music, despairs of having that big breakthrough. His girlfriend may take a job out of town, and his best friend may be succeeding in the world of high finance but faces a crisis of his own. What is that sound he keeps hearing? It seems to go "Tick, Tick ... Boom!" as time gets away from him and his world is about to explode.


This is a substantive musical with a message about using the life you have to the fullest. It is a message made all the more poignant given the history of its development and the story of its composer. A semi-autobiographical musical, it was written by Jonathan Larson as he approached (and then passed) his own thirtieth birthday struggling to write musicals that would use rock music in theatrical ways. He put it aside to concentrate on another project, the one that became Rent. It is now Broadway legend that a burst aorta caused his death just as he was on the verge of phenomenal success. His death actually came on the night of the final dress rehearsal of the off-Broadway production of Rent that was such a hit that it transferred to Broadway virtually unchanged and has run there since 1996. Not only did it win the Tony Award for Best Musical, it earned Larson a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. It is now the seventh longest running musical in Broadway history and it is still adding to its of (thus far) 4,785 performances. After Larson's death, David Auburn, the playwright who would later win the Pulitzer for his own play Proof, converted the solo-show that Larson had put aside into the fully formed musical we see today with its message of working toward your goals and being true to your mission in life.


MetroStage has mounted many satisfying small musicals, from the hilarious Musical of Musicals: The Musical to the rousing The Last Five Years, and revues from the outstanding Closer Than Ever to one-performer semi-cabarets like Ellington: The Life & Work of the Duke. With this one, it adds to the list and even tops much of what went before. Matthew Gardiner, the resident Assistant Director at Signature Theatre moves over for this show from Arlington to Alexandria and from Assistant Director to full Director duties. He paces some of the early scenes a bit slowly and allows a few distracting glitches. For example, for the song establishing the youthful sexual attraction between the composer and his girlfriend, Smith sings "The green green dress / 20 buttons and a strap / the green green dress / what a pleasure to unwrap." Yet the green dress Curry wears has no buttons! Early distractions, however, give way to emotionally involving staging as the show progresses, and the impact of the final four songs is impressive. It is all handled with the four person band on stage behind the three performers. The balance between all seven is such that the rock sound is strong and even heavy at the appropriate moments, but every word can be understood and every rhythm and counter-theme is clear. Kudos for much of this belong to both musical director Derek Bowley and sound designer Matt Rowe.


Curry, who just finished the limited run of Petite Rouge off-Broadway, has grown into a fine musical leading lady after some impressive work at Toby's Dinner Theater (especially her Helen Hayes nominated performance as Aida) Imagination Stage (The Araboolies of Liberty Street)  and here at MetroStage (Three Sistahs). She has three roles to play in this show, the girlfriend, a member of the cast of the composer's musical who makes a play for him, and his agent. She distinguishes between them without overdoing it, and she handles both rock and ballad duties with flair. Her "Come To Your Senses" would be a highlight in any show. Matt Pearson plays the best friend/former roommate and has his own moments to shine. But perhaps the most impressive time for all three comes quietly in the lovely "See Her Smile" when Smith is in the lead but the vocal support from both Pearson and Curry is sublime.