Why “tick, tick… BOOM!” Needs to Move to the Nederlander Right Now

New York City Center Encores! struck gold again with their revival of Jonathan Larson’s lesser-known musical tick, tick… BOOM! (If you don’t know his more well-known musical I will moo at you.)


Here are four, totally unbiased reasons why this production needs to move into a Broadway house as soon as possible:

1) The Nederlander is *ahem* open for rent. It’s just been announced that Newsies (the Nederlander’s current high-jumping tenant) will be closing this August. This leaves the theatre free for a fall (or Tony-baiting spring) opening. Not only is it the theatre were Rent played for twelve years, but it’s also filled with good juju from Newsies’ successful run. Even more importantly, the Nederlander is large enough to bring in Broadway audiences, but is still small enough to give the three-person musical an intimate feel. The show doesn’t have to play in the Nederlander, though. Any mid-size Broadway theatre will do very nicely. Just as long as…

2) Jonathan Larson’s less well-known musical can be better known.Much like Hedwig and the Angry Inch (before the Neil Patrick Harris-fueled Broadway mounting), tick, tick… BOOM!  is a rich rock musical that, despite its beloved underground status, has not made its Broadway debut.

Granted, it’s understandable why tick, tick… BOOM! has been in the shadows for so long. Why spend more millions producing a smaller, quirkier show when Rent is a constant seat-filler on 41st street? But now that Rent has been closed (and its Off Broadway “modernization” mostly forgotten), audiences can appreciate tick, tick… BOOM! with a mind not clouded by angsty artists with poor financial planning.

3. It’s smarter, more realistic, and more timeless than Rent. Disclaimer: I was one of the most obnoxious Rent-heads living in America at the beginning of the millennium. In lieu of anecdotes of noise polluting the hallways of my high school with “Lia Vie Boheme” lyrics, let me present you with photographic evidence of the author’s musical nerdship:

I was so cool, you guys.

Despite my fond memories of memorizing Daphne Rubin-Vega’s original “Out Tonight” choreography, grown-up me has become frustrated with Rent‘s black-and-white rendering of what it means to be an artist in New York City, where sell-out is the dirtiest of words.

The struggle of an artist is more nuanced in tick, tick… BOOM!, which follows Jon (Our Lord and Savior Lin-Manuel Miranda), a composer who is edging closer to his thirtieth birthday without much to show for it. He still works as a server in a diner, while his girlfriend Susan (Wepa Vanessa! Karen Olivo) is thinking about settling down somewhere that’s not New York–and having a more fulfilling dance career while she’s at it. Meanwhile, the specter of what could be is present in Michael (new Broadway crush Leslie Odom, Jr.), Jon’s friend who traded in his acting grind for Gucci belts and world-traveling with a high-paying (and potentially soul-sucking) marketing position.


What makes tick, tick… BOOM! so refreshing is that there are no easy answers. Michael isn’t a figure to be totally derided, and Jon admires Michael’s success (resulting in the amazingly hilarious number “No More”). That admiration is mutual, as Michael sees Jon’s musical workshop–and encourages him to keep on writing when the show doesn’t get picked up. Even though Jon is conflicted about his place in the world, he doesn’t villainize Michael for abandoning acting for financial security. Jon and Michael’s friendship in tick, tick… BOOM! makes Rents central Benny-as-landlord dilemma look downright juvenile.

4) This production did not feature a single white actor, and nobody died. When I first heard the news about tick, tick… BOOM! I received it with “color-blind” excitement. Lin-Manuel! Karen Olivo! Actors I really enjoy! I didn’t learn until later that tick, tick… BOOM! was a three-person show, and that the third person in the cast, Leslie Odom, Jr. was also a person of color.

I wondered about the implications of that. Diversity, especially regarding representation in the arts, has become a dirty word. Even though Jonathan Larson clearly wrote RENT with a diverse characters, tick, tick… BOOM! has one of those character breakdowns where no ethnicity is listed so casting directors usually go for white leads and a black best friend. One can also argue that since tick, tick… BOOM! is autobiographical, you may want an actor who physically resembles Jonathan Larson.

But Encores! took an inventive approach to this production, and it works. Not just for “diversity’s sake,” but because the cast are all highly-qualified to take on the job. (An argument that is usually used for when white actors are given roles meant for people of color.) Leslie Odom, Jr.’s extensive acting career includes Broadway musicals (including Rent) and a role on the TV-musical-hit-that-could-have-been Smash. Karen Olivo not only has the rock/pop musical artistic experience (In the Heights, Rent, Brooklyn, Murder Ballad), she also has the personal experience to take on the role of Susan. Like Susan, Olivo has wrestled with the choice to leave New York City and bring her passion for art to a new place: after leaving New York City last year, she’s begun a new career of writing and teaching in Wisconsin.

And let’s not forget the teeny-tiny qualifications of Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s not just an insanely talented actor who wowed us in In the Heights–he also kinda wrote the music and lyrics to the show, which has given him half of his inevitable EGOT. He’s also brought his life experience to the stage before, playing lyricist Charley Kringas in Encores!: Merrily We Roll Along. Not only is Miranda crazy qualified to take on the role, he brings a much-needed sense of humor to the role of Jon, a character who would otherwise be insufferable with his late quarter-life crisis.

The result of this ~nontraditional casting? On opening night, it was a packed house and a standing ovation. One performance doesn’t equal a Broadway run, but it might just speak louder than words.

“The Cradle Will Rock” at NYCC

New York City Center Encores! premiered a musical last night about corruption, unionization, and corporate greed with a stellar cast including Danny Burstein, Raúl Esparza, and Anika Noni Rose.

Okay, let’s take a step back for a second and look at that sentence. In fact, let’s put on our grammar school hats (What? You didn’t own one?) and dissect it.

“New York City Center Encores!”:  We’re big fans of NYCC Encores! Program. We gushed about this year’s It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, Fiorello! and 2009’s On the Town. The Encores! program revisits long-forgotten material, even notoriously terrible shows, and makes them into real fantastic happy magic show times.

“premiered a musical last night about corruption, unionization, and corporate greed”: Unconventional, labor-orientated story lines just happens to be what this terrible haughty English major wrote her honors thesis on. Besides, what a rare thing on Broadway to have something like the normal lives of working class people dramatized on stage (cough Hands on a Hardbody cough). When you throw into the mix that The Cradle Will Rock was actually commissioned by The Federal Theatre Project, a New Deal WPA program to fund live performance around the country so as to employ artists and entertain families, well, this play is basically a semi-Marxist musical theatre lover’s dream!

“with a stellar cast including Danny Burstein, Raúl Esparza, and Anika Noni Rose”: Um, yes, yes, and yes. OKAYTHANKS.

Recipe for success, no?

Well, I found this show to be really unengaging. If I check my watch to see how much longer the show will be while Danny Burstein and Raul Esparza are singing, you know something’s not right. Here are some ideas of what went wrong:

1) Okay, so I know Jeanine Tesori (Artistic Director of the Encores! Summer Program) is supposed to be hot stuff right now. There’s lots of buzz going around about her musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s amazingly good graphic novel Fun Home. We caught a workshop at the Public and to be honest, itneedsalotmoreworkbeforeithappens. In the Playbill feature about her artistic director stint, Tesori says that she has kept with the Encores! tradition of quick rehearsal times for each show (Cradle only had 10 days) and did not have any pretenses about making the show seem like a finished product at all.  Which brings me to my next point:

2) This doesn’t look like a finished product at all. Even under short rehearsal periods, all of the aforementioned Encores! plays (and then some) had some kind of makeshift sets, costumes, choreography. Hell, Cradle hardly had any staging. All of the actors stood or sat perfectly still in their seats or by their microphones. Danny Burstein was fortunate enough to be able to walk around the stage and Raul Esparza got to flail his arms a bit. There was a little song-and-dance number by Martin Moran and Henry Stram, but it was hardly interesting.  All the performers dressed in concert performance outfits (tuxedoes and gowns) even though they were playing prostitutes, policemen, priests, newsreporters, etc. It’s hard to take Anika Noni Rose seriously when she sings about not being able to rub two dimes together looking like she’s gotta rush to the Academy Awards right after this. I mean, it’s not hard to dress people according to their career- high school kids do it every frickin year.

And are you telling me that an actor can’t pinch Anika Noni Rose’s arm when she yells, “OW YOU’RE PINCHING MY ARM.”  For real? You’re telling me that 10 days with a bunch of Broadway’s best and brightest only came up with “Hey, Let’s just read the script straight from our binders and just stand there for 80% of it.”

Judy Kuhn is a reporter, hear?

3) How does a show with

  • Raul Esparza aka Mr. Charisma/Sex Appeal
  • Anika Noni Rose aka Disney Princess
  • Danny Burstein aka Chameleon Boss
  • Matthew Saldivar aka Not Christian Borle but still awesome (Like if Borle had a baby with a deeper-voiced Esparza)
  • Judy Kuhn aka Disney Princess 2
  • Eisa Davis aka best Janelle Monae impersonator ever

be unengaging? It’s the total lack of energy from the lack of staging, costumes, and choreography. It’s also the fact that Cradle throws together a bunch of anecdotes in an attempt to make a storyline, but there really isn’t any. The play examines the greed and corruption of each member of the Liberty Committee, which has recently been arrested at a protest. The Liberty Committee is a group of the town’s most prominent professionals who do the bidding of Mister Mister (Burstein), a sort-of Andrew Carnegie fighting unionization and workers’ rights. Of course, the committee has been wrongly arrested…they were actually trying to stop the protest instead of participating in it. Each of the following scenes looks at how each member of the committee got involved in Mister Mister’s schemes. Anika Noni Rose plays a prostitute who was also wrongly arrested (for refusing a policeman’s advances), and she’s supposed to hold together the plot kind of sort of maybe nobody really knows. She’s got a song in the beginning and a song in the end and somehow that shows that she’s important.

The protest organizer (Esparza) shows up towards the end of the show to condemn us all to capitalist hell with some hair-tossing and jazzy tunes. And Mister Mister shows up every now and then to yell and shout and show that he’s a bad man.

It’s not a great show. But heck, Fiorello! is no masterpiece either. And It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane is AWFUL but Encores! knew how to present it in a self-referential, silly, and thoroughly enjoyable way.

With all its flaws, Cradle could have been fresh, energetic, and funny. Ten days of rehearsal with some brilliant talent can get you way more than a concert reading. Instead, the most exciting moment of the play was when Robert Petkoff forgot his lines and quite brilliantly played it off by having his character claim to have good memory later on in his dialogue. Good Times.

It’s A Bird..It’s A Plane…It’s Superman! at New York City Center Encores!

Yup. Superman The Musical. Otherwise known as “Superman: Turn On the Clark”

We’ve gushed before about NYCC’s Encores! program. Last month’s Fiorello! was fan-frakkin-tastic. I’ll eat up anything Encores! puts in front of me. So when we heard that the next musical in the lineup would be a 1960’s flop about Superman, we made sure to book us a trip to Metropolitan bliss.

Continue reading “It’s A Bird..It’s A Plane…It’s Superman! at New York City Center Encores!”

Dear New York City Center Encores,

Thanks for putting a gi-normous musical smile on my face for two and a half hours. Again.


I’m totally getting Superman tickets.

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