Boom Times

Except that, of course, it is. tick . . . tick . . . BOOM! is delightful, and funny, and flawed, full of the shortcomings of youth and the overinsistence of young artists who haven't yet begun to search out subjects beyond themselves. It has a brash vivacity and an artlessness that are in some ways more appealing than the complex struggles with plot and character that mark Rent. But Rent itself, really, was only a first strong step in a career that ceased to happen even before the show had been publicly performed. In this respect, tick . . . tick . . . BOOM!, being much more openly autobiographical, is that much more painful.

Larson was bold—brazen, even—in building songs out of his personal crises. Rock troubadours do it, but it isn't common in the musical theater. He liked taking chances; witness the way he pulled apart the dramaturgic structure of La Boheme precisely because it was famous for working so well. tick . . . tick . . . BOOM! has a song about a green dress, and the suspicion crossed my mind that he may have written it just because somebody told him that it's considered unlucky to wear green onstage. One of the show's most endearing numbers is a hymn to the pleasure of bingeing on sweets when under stress, its lyrics cunningly phrased to make it marketable as a love song outside the score.

For all tick . . . tick . . . BOOM!'s unwitting prefigurations of Larson's unhappy fate, it has an irrepressible optimism, taking its hero's most painful confrontations as subjects for wry comedy, not for moans. At the end, when Esparza's Jonathan, surrounded by an unseen crowd of partying friends, sits at the keyboard to play "Happy Birthday" to himself, it's history, not the show, that makes us cry. The best compliment one can pay to Scott Schwarz, who directed, and to the three-member cast, in which Amy Spanger and Jerry Dixon give Esparza strong, resourceful support, is that the whole thing is carried on as blithely as if the author were here to see it. Since we'll never see his post-Rent musicals, we'd best share their delight in this one.

Yvette Ganier and Caroline Stefanie Clay in Breath, Boom: fateful fireworks
photo: Carol Rosegg
Yvette Ganier and Caroline Stefanie Clay in Breath, Boom: fateful fireworks

Details

Breath, Boom
By Kia Corthron
Playwrights Horizons Studio
416 West 42nd Street
212-279-4200

tick . . . tick . . . BOOM!
By Jonathan Larson
Jane Street Theatre
113 West Jane Street
212-239-6200

Watch Your Step
By Harry B. Smith, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street
212-362-0713

Byrd's Boy
By Bruce J. Robinson
Primary Stages
354 West 45th Street
212-333-4052


Speaking of shared delight, I plan to write at length next week about Irving Berlin's Watch Your Step; the limited space I have left here is only enough to recommend that you catch its extremely limited run. If for some arcane reason you were planning to see Byrd's Boy, at Primary Stages, you can use the evening you might have wasted on that earnest, static, and entirely skippable event. I don't blame the actors, Myra Lucretia Taylor and David McCallum, who do their skillful best. But why they should bother—why anyone should have bothered to write, direct, or produce this pointless lump of sententiousness and sentimentality—is a puzzle even harder to explain than Destiny.

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