A worthy precursor to ‘Rent’ 

If the Broadway headturner “Rent,” marvelously developed by composer and playwright Jonathan Larson, had a younger sibling that demanded attention, it must be “Tick, Tick … Boom!”

The emotionally charged rock musical, which Larson crafted in the early 1990s, is his inventive, perhaps little-known, “autographical” predecessor to the award-winning spectacle.

Onstage in San Francisco at Theatre Rhinocerous, “Tick, Tick … Boom!”   was originally a rock monologue that Larson himself performed back in New York.

After several incarnations, it made its off-Broadway debut and stood out for how well it mirrored Larson’s own joys of dreaming big and loving large.

“It’s really quite touching and magical because it’s the story of Larson trying to create ‘Rent,’ ” says John Fisher, Theatre Rhino’s artistic director. “More than anything, it’s his great, great music and the humanity of his characters that stand out.”

The show is about Jonathan (Scott Gessford), Susan (Holly Nugent) and Michael (Brian Yates Sharber) — New Yorkers who have formed an emotional triangle on the verge of collapse.

Jonathan, a struggling composer, fears his future. Susan, his girlfriend announces she’d like to get married.

Meanwhile Michael, who is gay, has moved far beyond “starving artist” mode and is finally raking in some real cash.

Central to the play, too, is the idea of turning 30 and what that really means for each character.

Musically, the show is “rock and roll” with some camp, remnants of “old Broadway” and some Sondheim-isms — drums, keyboard and guitars. Audiences who have admired Larson’s signature work at all will appreciate the back story of, well, his “story.”

The play’s main character, Jonathan, frets over his musical “Suburbia,” the same play Larson created prior to “Tick, Tick … Boom!” There’s also a delicious take on Larson’s own fascination with Sondheim, and his desire to meet the legend and gain his acceptance, that plays a significant part in this tale.

The song “Sunday,” sung by the character Jonathan, is considered Larson’s homage to Sondheim in that it culls from the finale of Act 1 of  Sondheim’s hit “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Fittingly, Larson eventually became a recipient of the Stephen Sondheim Award, a nice twist of fate he could not have orchestrated better himself.

Tick, Tick ... Boom!

Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros

Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 28
Tickets: $15 to $30
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.TheRhino.org

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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