Tick Tick Boom Boom, New Rep Theater's current production through October 21st playing at Watertown's Arsenal Center for the Arts, is a musical thirtysomething's anxiety ridden angst over his soon to be 30th birthday...a saga of what we all feel when we've reached a watershed believing we haven't achieved either the sell out success or true to ourselves career. The only difference for me is that I knew the playwright Jonathan Larson and his family.
They were nearby clients who furnished abodes and plays with items from my estate sales. I used to kid him about the castoffs he was buying and I was selling. "They're far older than either of us combined, get altered, recycled, reincarnated, born again. Listen to the stories they tell. What's 30 when my 50th is imminent and I'm feeling the same?"
Beside the amazing Guy Olivieri acting the lead, the talented and versatile Aimee Doherty and Brian Robinson play his lover, friend, parents, agent, you name it. Ain't life in small production theaters wonderful ? I wholeheartedly vote YES.
Jonathan and I were starstruck musical kids, albeit different generations. He worshiped Sondheim and his musicals, I way earlier through the present with my mentors including Leonard Bernstein. After all, I was one of Lenny's original Carnegie Hall viewers at his famed Concerts for Young People during Tchaikovsky's Peter and The Wolf. I still live for any version of West Side Story. Hell I even worship the operatic singers of Greek tragedy, Gilbert and Sullivan and South Pacific.
We both shared a love of children and the show Sesame Street. He worked on it along with my childhood friends. My mom and fellow teachers created it as The Children's Cultural Workshop before its evolution into television.
So to watch Guy play the Jonathan I knew, a friend who died young of the same disease as another mentor, Abe Lincoln, was kinda strange but wonderful. In fact, the flyer distributed in the playbill from his family describing their fight to educate people about Marfen's to prevent another tragic loss was the whole point of Jonathan.
He loved people, any size, shape, color, persuasion as demonstrated in his ruminated song about waiting on them. He could be singing his scorn that they shouldn't be eating in diners because there's no pleasin' em but he observed them as carefully as any lover of human nature like Cervantes or Shakespeare.
His goal was to reinvent the musical for his peers he felt abandoned it through rock music about ordinary events. But are any events ordinary as he watches his talented best buddy Michael "sell out" to a commercial career beyond acting only to discover his friend's dying?
What about his best girl Susan wanting him to settle down, raise a family, move to Cape Cod? She tells him she'll still be a dancer without struggling and crashing in New York City with the bums, garbage, decay and leaves him speechless for once when he doesn't choose to follow. His heart is rent in half, pun intended.
Their lovers spats acted in song culminating with their wordless parting is the tragedy we all feel of losing and not knowing what to do with our broken hearts. Michael has lived with the knowledge of his death for two weeks without sharing it like everything else with his best friend since he's nine years old. He doesn't know how or what to say as he walks away.
Jonathan screams and sings his frustration, fear, anger, loss to the birds in the park, feeling so selfish and guilty about his bitching and moaning about an upcoming birthday. As he's questioning all these real life alternatives as we all do, weighing too carefully, failing no matter the choice because he can't be successful by 30, his hit Superbia does it for him by the skin of his teeth. But he's afraid, alone, losing a friend to AIDS and lover to life. He vows he'll be there for Michael in death but sadly not for Susan,and perhaps their children in life.
It's bittersweet as he stays focused for once on the moment at his party with them and doesn't pick up the phone for the call he's been awaiting his whole life from Sondheim, whose name he can't even speak as if it's so divine it cannot be uttered. At least the message machine records it, we suspect, forever.
Jonathon's success was all the more tragic as he made it and enjoyed so little of it dying before his 36th birthday so unexpectedly. He never witnessed the success of Rent.
Did he perhaps sense the Tick Tick Boom Boom inwardly more acutely knowing that his biological clock experienced in his body was running out of time? Perhaps that's why he glorified the ordinary into the extraordinary, remained so intensely focused instead of quitting...why he didn't follow a more traditional choice. Did he know time wouldn't permit two loves, that his shows were his children, his legacy, his ultimate triumph? Lincoln knew.
I know I missed his presence and found it shortly, briefly, happily again once upon a time as I listen to another imminent Tick Tick Boom Boom of my own. I passed 50 alone. Soon it will be 55 alone. It's okay Jonathan. We all know you're there with us. Does Art follow Life or vice versa?