Happy birthday, Jonny! ‘Rent’ composer’s story comes to CroswellWritten by Mary Petrides | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Time is running out for Jonathan Larson, a starving artist in New York City: it’s 1990 and his 30th birthday is fast approaching.
He’s been waiting tables and writing his musical Superbia for five years, and at almost 30, he’s come to a crossroads: should he pursue his passion for musical theater or should he find a steady corporate job (like his childhood friend Michael did) and settle down with a family (like his girlfriend Susan wants)?
Performances of Tick Tick… Boom! continue at 8 p.m. July 30-31 and Aug. 1 at 3 p.m. at Croswell Opera House in Adrian, less than an hour’s drive from Toledo. The show, which runs about 90 minutes, contains adult themes and language that may not be appropriate for children.
The musical is effectively an autobiography of Larson, creator of the Broadway musical Rent, said Michael Yuen, who plays Jon. In the musical, Jon is both character and narrator, often describing the scene before or in between dialogue with other characters.
“Telling this side of a story is interesting to me as an actor because I’ve always seen it from the performance [side],” Yuen said. “Watching and learning about this side of the process has been very enlightening.”
Jon takes his musical to a workshop and sees in the audience “St— S—,” a composer so great Jon won’t pronounce his name. This composer’s opinion of the work could make or break Jon’s career.
Jere Righter, artistic director at Croswell, said Tick Tick… Boom! was discovered by accident after Larson’s death. Larson’s family hired a lawyer to go through his files and prove that he had written Rent, since some people were filing lawsuits claiming authorship after Larson died. While searching, the lawyer found most of Tick Tick… Boom! in Larson’s files. A writer was hired to complete it.
The musical isn’t performed often and hasn’t been performed before in the area, Righter said, and it required some extra creativity.
The cast comprises three actors (Nicholas Fuqua and Kyrie Bristle play 10 or 15 characters between them) and the acting could take place in a smaller area than would be needed for a large cast. Croswell workers arranged 158 chairs on the stage around three sides of the area where the actors performed. During the performance, audience members are as close as three or four feet away from the actors.
Yuen said acting in close setting is similar to acting on film because the audience can see little things, like a small exhalation or smile, that they wouldn’t be able to see form 20 feet away.
“Being in a more intimate setting … it allows me to be more natural,” Bristle said.
“It’s more relaxed,” Fuqua said. “There’s no bells and whistles in your acting.”
Righter said the smaller stage area helped to tell Larson’s story.
“The show is enough on its own,” she said. “It stands without that over-the-top kind of stuff.”
“You feel like you know Jonathan Larson when it’s over: who he was and what he struggled with,” she said. “It’s a really great story.”
Damn Yankees opens Aug. 20 at Croswell.