Cygnet Theatre Offers an Artistic Echo to San Diego with their Latest Production of Jonathan Larson's

Tick, Tick...Boom! 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Emma Nossal, AJ Rafael, Leo Ebanks. Photo by Karli Cadel

Amongst the many milestones that come in life, I believe that turning 30 is meaningful. Yes, each birthday should and can be meaningful but 30 is 30, and I will elaborate on why. Bear with me dear reader, as I do my 360s to re-land and start once I have made my point. For my generation, (I consider a full-on X but the experts say I am on the cusp of being an "elder millennial") turning 30 in Mexico meant getting up there. Especially being single with no kids. I strongly thought it was cultural but no. As I started my theatre journey in San Diego at 31, I still felt ancient. It was the sign of the times, the turn of the times, whatever you want to call it. So, I can only imagine the crucifixions happening in the 80s and 90s to the then-30-year-olds. Because 30 is not old, it is just not 20 and you know, marketing, patriarchy, etc. But that is for another day. 

Cygnet Theatre continues its 20th season with a production of Jonathan Larson's autobiographical musical tick, tick…BOOM! which Larson himself performed and toured as a solo piece. After he died in 1996, the piece was revised and reimagined as a three-person show. 

Tick...tick, the internal clock. Tick...tick the societal clock. Tick,tick...the "you are running out of time" clock,  all telling you what should be, what should have been accomplished at a certain age, and what milestones should have been or should be reached.  That is what Jon (AJ Rafael) is internally hearing in 1990 right before turning 30. Living in New York, aiming to make it in the musical theatre business as a composer, while waiting tables to make rent and do workshops. He lives in SoHo with his friend Michael (Leo Ebanks), an actor turned marketer who decided to stop starving as an artist and surrender to the corporate world. Jon's girlfriend Susan (Emma Nosal) is a dancer who teaches ballet to rich, untalented kids. Jon has not made it -queue the song 30/90- and hopes that the musical SUPERBIA he has been working on for five years will be the next Hair or well, the 90s Hair. Jon's agent has not been in contact for over 6 months but she is getting interesting people ready to show up at the workshop and the composer is nervous and longing for Sondheim to show up, who (I heard) would support up-and-coming talent and really go to these things. The workshop takes place, people do show up, and it gets praised. Jon expects something else and starts viewing things through a different lens, and so do the people around him.

AJ Rafael. Photo by Karli Cadel

Larson truly hits all the marks on New York living and aspiring to be a star dynamic including inside jokes and, illustrating the struggle of a non-working artist. The show is a little over 90 minutes long with no intermission and Katie Banville's direction whips up the cast along with the three on-stage musicians and conductor who also plays the keyboard, to sync in a fast-paced, continuously in-movement performance. Banville's director's letter hits the mark as well, touching upon what it is like to not just work in theatre but to work in theatre in San Diego. I am sure many will find an echo in this letter just like I did. The cast of three worked a nice histrionic flow that combined strong harmonies in songs like Johnny Can't Decide, Sunday, and See Her Smile. AJ Rafael in his Cygnet debut showed some mean piano-playing skills and all three actors had their comedic moments. AJ presented Jon's cynicism/dark sense of humor well while Emma and Leo had a character swap a la Freaky Friday or Parent Trap that was definitely celebrated. 

Yi-Chien Lee's set design of mainly, Jon's apartment with all the details from the windows, to the bookshelf and the couch, gave that cramped yet cozy New York feel that was complimented by Jaeonnie Davis-Crawford's detailed props that marked scenery changes punctually along with Joshua Heming's lighting design which gave a perfect sunrise and pumped important moments. The songs in 'BOOM are great and Salvador Zamora made sure the sound and instruments went through as they should, however, in the opening night performance all three of the actor's microphones sounded like, yes, -I say it often- like they were inside a drawer. The dialogues had a bit of hollowness on the sound. Again, it was only the spoken word as the music came in well and the musicians did a great job in their audience right corner with Dr. Randi Rudolph on the keyboard as well as conducting, Danny Chavarin on drums/percussion, PJ Bovee on the guitar, and Christian Reeves on bass. In the song 30/90, Dr. Rudolph musically directs AJ Rafael and I just loved that visual as it was very artistically hands-on.

Emma Nossal, AJ Rafael. Photo by Karli Cadel
Regan A. McKay's costume design, *screams in 90s and no sound comes out*, what a flashback! From the sweater and jacket combo to Susan's mini skirts, the checkered shirts (all back in style btw), and that green, gorgeous, gorgeous mini dress with black tights, yes! I think it was more of a late 90s style than early, but still nostalgia-inducing. I see what Peter Herman did with Emma's wig and those red-ish waffle waves. I wish the side part was not as prominent because it took a bit from the overall shape of the wig. The make-up was clean and natural. 

The RENT hard-core fans will find notes and details here and there hinted in 'BOOM. After the release of the Netflix movie version, it is cool that Cygnet produced the show as it is one of those pieces with history. It is heartbreaking that Jonathan Larson did not see the reimagined tick, tick...BOOM! or RENT. Staging this show, in particular, honors his legacy but also his wishes and creative longing materialize. Like a sort of divine intervention. 

Currently playing in Old Town until August 4th. For performance days and times please click here

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