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‘Tick Tick Boom’ Musical Brings ‘Rent’ Creator’s Artistic Anxiety to City Repertory Theatre

| April 12, 2019

The City Repertory Theatre production of 'Tick Tick Boom' stars, from left: Chelsea Jo Conard, Trey King and Beau Wade. The musical will be staged April 5-14 at City Rep’s venue in City Market Place in Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

The City Repertory Theatre production of ‘Tick Tick Boom’ stars, from left: Chelsea Jo Conard, Trey King and Beau Wade. The musical will be staged April 5-14 at City Rep’s venue in City Market Place in Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

Book “Tick Tick Boom” tickets easily here.

After Chelsea Jo Conard studied musical theater at the Conservatory at Webster University in St. Louis, she was pursuing theater in New York City when the bubble burst – literally.

“I lived in Harlem and then I lived in Astoria in Queens in just terrible apartments,” Conard says before a rehearsal of “Tick Tick Boom,” the musical by City Repertory Theatre that opens Friday at its Palm Coast venue. The play is a last-minute addition to the City Rep season after “Dames at Sea” was dropped when its previously cast tap dancers could no longer perform in it.

Conard portrays Susan in “Tick Tick Boom,” a play by the late Jonathan Larson – yes, the guy who created the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning “Rent.”

“I lived in a sixth-floor walkup for a long time and I did the whole theater thing,” says Conard, a City Rep veteran who runs two area wellness centers when she’s not doing theater. One night in that New York apartment, she and her roommates noticed “a giant water bubble in the ceiling. We put a pan under it and popped it with a fork.”

With such leaky ceiling memories, it’s no wonder Conard relates “100 percent” to Larson’s autobiographical play.

Before “Rent” and its rock-influenced music became the 800-pound gorilla of the musical theater world, Larson was a struggling, self-doubting yet determined, wanna-be composer who admired Stephen Sondheim, waited tables when he wasn’t writing music, and lived in shitty Big Apple apartments – including one he equipped with a wood-burning stove because it didn’t have heat.

Larson began performing “Tick Tick Boom” as a solo “rock monologue” piece in 1990 in various New York venues and workshop settings. Soon after he began work on “Rent,” a rock musical loosely based on Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” and which, like “Boom,” told the story of starving young artists in Lower Manhattan’s East Village.

Larson died unexpectedly of an aortic dissection, apparently related to an undiagnosed case of Marfan syndrome, the night before “Rent” premiered Off-Broadway in January 1996. The musical moved to Broadway three months later, and Larson garnered all those awards posthumously.

After Larson’s death, “Tick Tick Boom” was revised and revamped by playwright David Auburn, he of “Proof” fame, as a three-actor piece, and the new version premiered Off-Broadway in 2001. An American national tour followed, along with Off-Broadway revivals in 2014 and 2016.

In the City Rep production, Gaston “Trey” King portrays Jon, the angst-riddled, 30-year-old musician-composer who yearns to make it big on Broadway – or at least just make a living in the performing arts.

Conard is his girlfriend Susan, a dancer who teaches ballet to young children but who has abandoned her own artistic dreams and wants to raise a family. Beau Wade plays Jon’s longtime friend Michael, who has given up acting for a lucrative job in the business world – and who keeps tempting the poverty-addled Jon with a position at his firm.

The play is fueled by that tension between the food-on-the-table demands of everyday life versus one’s artistic ambitions.

King says he relates “immensely” to Larson’s autobiographical play and its struggling main character, while Wade echoes Conard and says the play resonates “100 percent” with him.

King, a Jacksonville native who studied theater performance at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., says he has “been doing theater my entire life.” After college he moved to Los Angeles, where he had a day job but also an agent. “I was doing auditions once or twice a week,” he says. “It was awesome.”

At City Repertory Theatre:

    “Hand to God,” directed by John Sbordone, staged by City Repertory Theatre at 7:30 p.m. May 3-4 and 10-11, and 3 p.m. May 5 and 12. Performances are at CRT’s venue in City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Tickets are $20 adults, $15 students. For more information or tickets, call the CRT box office at 386-585-9415 or easily book tickets online here. 

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He moved to St. Augustine a year ago to be close to his family after his father was diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma.

“At first I struggled with the idea of actually going back to the arts,” says King, who works at Marineland Dolphin Adventure as the entertainment coordinator. “I was very hesitant when it came to auditioning for this.”

“Tick Tick Boom” is not only his City Rep debut – it also will be his first theatrical performance in the area.

Wade, akin to both Larson and the composer’s alter ego in the play, sandwiches theater work between his day job as a restaurant server. A City Rep and Flagler Playhouse vet, Wade has portrayed Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show” and Albert Einstein in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” and he’s played roles in “Macbeth” and more than 10 other plays.

“The character Jonathan is a starving artist who works at a restaurant, which I can relate to a lot,” Wade says. “His goal to make his life in theater is something a lot of artists are in agreement with – ‘Whatever it takes to make art my passion, my livelihood.’ His desire is to not stop even though the most important people in his life, his best friend and his girlfriend, are telling him maybe that’s not the avenue. But he’s like ‘No, I know what I want.’ ”

Jon’s dilemma recalls what the poet W.B. Yeats wrote in “Adam’s Curse”:

“A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.”

Yet the City Rep cast believes “Tick Tick Boom” isn’t merely a play written by a struggling, starving artist that will appeal only to struggling, starving artists.

“It’s about settling,” Conard says. “It’s anything that you are passionate about. Does the character Jon settle and do something else? Or does he push forward and take that big risk, and possibly lose important people in his life? I think everyone can relate to that, not just from an artistic perspective, not just a composer, actor or whoever. Everyone struggles with that, making those types of choices.”

City Rep director John Sbordone says “Boom,” like its more famous cousin “Rent,” reflects “Jonathan Larson’s relationship with New York, and his struggles to make music and change the whole nature of Broadway musicals that needed changing at the time.”

Sbordone notes that “Jesus Christ Superstar” was hailed as a groundbreaking “rock opera” when it debuted on Broadway in 1971, but Larson wanted to amp up the rock vibe in musical theater.

“He was trying to use rock music for musicals, so he was a revolutionary in that regard,” Sbordone says. “The big revolution before Jonathan Larson is probably Bob Fosse and what he did for dance. Up to the 1960s, so many of the musicals are vehicles for stars, then you get ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Hair,’ and these are revolutionary for their time. Larson comes along 25 years later, and things have kind of stagnated. So, his mission was to change all of that.

“ ‘Tick Tick Boom’ is a marvelous musical that talks about those changes, and his struggles to make things work.”

Wade notes that “there’s a great line in my favorite song in the play, ‘Johnny Can’t Decide,’ which touches on those feelings of not knowing which decision to make. There’s a line where Jonathan says, ‘I want to sit down right now at my piano and I want to write music. I want to do that every day — make songs that people listen to and remember.’ While Jonathan Larson did unfortunately pass away before ‘Rent’ became a hit, he did spend the rest of his life doing that — creating music that people 25 years later are still singing, still loving, still exulting in. It is tragic, but it’s sweet — bittersweet.”

“Tick Tick Boom” is replacing “Dames at Sea” on the City Rep schedule. “Dames,” a 1966 musical that features a lot of tap dancing, was not only scheduled a year ago but also cast a year ago, Sbordone said: “At CRT we cast ahead of time, especially when you have specialty things that have to happen. You can’t do ‘Dames at Sea’ without tappers. I had enlisted tappers last May, and we were going on that premise and then circumstances changed and they couldn’t do it. Rather than do a half-baked job of a show that features tap, we decided to change it.”

–Rick de Yampert for FlaglerLive

“Tick Tick Boom,” written by Jonathan Larson, directed by Jon Sbordone, starring Chelsea Jo Conard, Trey King and Beau Wade, staged by City Repertory Theatre at 7:30 p.m. April 5-6 and 12-13, and 3 p.m. April 7 and 14. Performances are at CRT’s venue in City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Tickets are $25 adults, $15 students. For more information or tickets, call the CRT box office at 386-585-9415 or book online here.

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3 Responses for “‘Tick Tick Boom’ Musical Brings ‘Rent’ Creator’s Artistic Anxiety to City Repertory Theatre”

  1. Hammock Resident says:

    While everything in this article is true, what is left out is that neither of the two males in the cast can sing…. and it’s a musical. The last sentence in the article quotes Mr. Sbordone regarding “Dames at Sea”: “Rather than do a half-baked job of a show that features tap, we decided to change it.” (because he didn’t have tappers). He should have changed out this show, too, because he didn’t have male singers. The female, Chelsea Jo Conard, is as good as they get. She’s on par with any regional or touring singer/performer. Perhaps not Broadway Lead, but certainly Broadway Chorus. Didn’t see her dance, but she’s at least a double threat. She is a talent, and this area is lucky to have her. Hope to see more of her. How she was able to sing in tune during duets and trios with these 2 guys was a miracle. The situation was not helped by the Director’s choice of off-stage accompaniment. I get that it’s a small theatre and on-stage accompaniment could have overwhelmed an un-mic’d singer. It would have been tricky. However, in this case, with no ear monitors or floor monitors, the singer could not hear the accompaniment when he/she sang. Being able to hear the accompaniment would have 1) Helped the guys sing a bit more in tune 2) covered a multitude of sins. I’ve always believed the Director has a responsibility to a paying audience and to the auditioners. If actors/singers are not self-aware enough to know their own limitations, it is the responsibility of the Director to make sure that actors are not cast in roles that might potentially be embarrassing to them. It is the nice thing to do. In this case, the Director let down both the paying audience and the two males in the cast. As for other aspects of the show– I appreciated the fine use of the minimalist stage and costuming. Very effective. The pantomiming rather than real props was very distracting. That could have easily been worked through. I really wanted to enjoy this performance. Thank goodness for Chelsea Jo Conard. I really did enjoy her.

  2. Susan Slater says:

    When I go to the theater, I want to be challenged, see something different—but most of all I want to be entertained! CRT never disappoints and Tick, Tick Boom is no exception.

    What I don’t do is go demanding perfection. City theaters offer fantastic opportunities for young actors to grow, to try new things—to find themselves as actors. Who could have seen Beau Wade in Rocky Horror
    And then enjoyed his multi-role acting in Boom and not be impressed by his ability to stretch and reach new heights? And Chelsea? Always, ALWAYS a delight!

    The pleasant surprise was enjoying someone new to CRT’s stage—Trey King! I want to see more of Mr. King.
    I think the casting was spot-on! Can I forgive a few pitch problems? Of course! This was not an audition for The Voice.

    This community is fortunate to have the pool of superb talent that it has—with a genius as Director!! Is there anything John Sbordone can’t make us imagine with a stage of strategically placed black wooden boxes? I was part of that standing ovation the cast received Friday, April 5.

  3. Chelsea says:

    I can’t not respond. While I do so appreciate the feedback, as I have been trained (musical theatre degree from a great acting conservatory as well as classes and shows living in NYC and elsewhere), I must say that I have been very fortunate to find this small community theatre that not only has a brilliant artistic director but also pushes the envelope with show choices and gives me and others the opportunity to learn and grow. Community theatre is just that. It’s about using people within our small community and giving them
    opportunities to reach outside their personal box and tell a story that audiences may not have otherwise had a chance to experience. It’s about affecting people, in some way, to think or feel differently. Beau and Trey are both beautiful actors, and a few pitch problems on a CRAZY difficult musical piece with only three actors, each on their own difficult vocal line throughout the show can and should be forgived, because 1. This musical is about the story, and these men tell it so well. It’s touching, relatable, and honest. That, telling the story, in itself, is not only tough but is the most important part of any musical. And John directs us to first and foremost share the story. (By the way, we have all been sick during this run, which makes singing incredibly difficult music very hard.) Thanks Florida pollen! 😝
    Community theatre isn’t about trying to achieve “Broadway quality.” No, it’s about sharing beautiful stories in a LIVE setting, in an intimate environment, to touch a place in your heart that your TV just can’t reach.. And it’s about allowing people within the community to step outside of themselves for a while. Palm Coast may not be the HUB for amazing singers, ok. It’s Palm Coast. But what we do have is this tiny little black box space started by John and Diane to give people the chance to immerse themselves in a new world for an evening. To feel something different. To learn something new. To breathe in other humans putting their heart and souls on their sleeves to share a part of themselves with you.
    Is it the best show CRT has ever put on? Who cares. If you’re able to open your mind and your heart, I know this story will leave you feeling for these characters who act their parts extremely well. Also, they (we) do a pretty fine job singing this crazy hard show. ❤️ It’s a tough one, it really is. And I’m so proud of these two men who have worked their asses off, and our brilliant director, music director, and choreographer/ movement coach who has helped us navigate our way through this beautiful story.

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