TICK, TICK… BOOM at the Garden Theater

Rarely can the message of an entire musical be summed up in three words. However, composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson sums up the message of TICK, TICK…BOOM! in three words found in the middle of the song, “Johnny Can’t Decide”:” compromise or persevere.

The show is a thinly veiled autobiography of Larson, who struggled for years trying to create the Great American Musical before strike gold with RENT. Jon (played by the spellbinding Joe Chisholm) finds himself at a crossroads in his life. On a Path is his dream of succeeding on Broadway. In the other artery is the much easier life of trying to make it in the world of marketing and settling down.

Short North Stage captures the tension between doing what’s right and doing what’s expected in the three-person, 90-minute production at the Garden Theater (1187 High Street in downtown Columbus). Over its three shows from September 9-11, director Anthony C. Daniels and musical director Jonathan Collura delivered a predictable yet heartbreaking, understated yet powerful spectacle.

Chisholm’s tenor voice brings a sense of nostalgia to songs like “Why.” Chisholm conveys Jon’s emotions in a way that feels so natural you forget he’s acting. Perhaps the most emotional part of the show is on the eve of his 30th birthday, Jon receives a message on his answering machine from his idol, Stephen Sondheim. The way Chisholm’s eyes watered to the brink of tears was so heartbreaking that the audience felt like they were in the room with Jon.

Chisholm’s chemistry with Jenna Scannelli (who plays Jon’s girlfriend, Susan) doesn’t seem forced, faked, or forged. Over the course of the play, the couple’s two-month relationship goes from infatuation to frustration and ultimately disintegration with a note of hope for reconciliation at the end of the show. Given that the cast consisted of three actors, what was truly spellbinding was how Scannelli and AJ Lockhart jumped through the hoops of being several different characters, each with their own unique ways and quirks in seconds in “Sunday. “.

Lockhart brings a wry wit to the role of Michael, Jonathan’s successful and supportive friend who made it big but as a star on Madison Avenue, not Broadway. In his subtle boast, “No More”, Michael describes his luxurious existence in his world of Parkview apartments, throwing a punch at 1970s sitcom THE JEFFERSONS by slipping in part of the show’s theme song.

Even with the stellar acting skills of Lockhart, Scannelli and Chisholm, TICK, TICK…BOOM! would have been useless without the exceptional support of an exceptional group composed of Collura (keyboards), Sara Smith (bass), Will Mayer (drums) and Damon Barnett (guitar).

If there was a downside to this performance, it was knowing the backstory of Larson’s life. Unfortunately, Larson never found success with TICK, TICK…BOOM! or RENT, died on January 26, 1996 a few hours before the first Performances in preview Off-Broadway. He does the lyrics for songs like “Why?” sound haunting and poignant:With so much time to spend/ I don’t want to waste my time.”

Every time you see a viewer in tears before the curtain falls, you know they’ve seen something powerful. TICK, TICK… BOOM! delivered that and more.