Find Us

AT the Kennedy Center tick, tick…BOOM! Shines with Jonathan Larson’s Lush, Emotional and Extraordinary Music

Tick, tick…BOOM!

Broadway Center Stage at
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
February 2, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Brandon Uranowitz and the Cast of tick tick BOOM (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

Tic, tic, boom is the sound Jon (Brandon Uranowitz) hears in his head as he feels himself falling into obscurity as a musical composer. Looming large is his 30th birthday. With nothing to show for decades of laying his soul bare in words and rhymes, he ponders the wisdom, or idiocy, of taking a job in the corporate world like his former roommate and best friend, Michael (Grey Henson). Michael is flying high on success and shows Jon that having a luxury penthouse and flashy BMW can erase the pain of failure and a respite from their 6-floor walk-up.

At the same time Jon’s beloved, Susan (Denée Benton), is bent on leaving the city and getting a home in the country where their lives would be less stressful. This is not an option for Broadway hopeful Jon whose raison d’être is inextricably tied to the stage. His keyboard forms the nucleus of the limited props.

Denée Benton and Brandon Uranowitz (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

Playwright, composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson’s real life was a tragedy in itself. Drawing from his own bohemian life and inspired by Puccini’s La bohème, he wrote the wildly successful rock opera Rent. His own poverty and struggle for recognition were undoubtedly its inspiration. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here since Larson died at 36 years-old on the night before its Broadway opening in 1996.

Fast forward to the 2021 film adaptation of tick, tick…BOOM! which you may have seen on Netflix and is definitely worth your time. It was directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and roundly praised.

Brandon Uranowitz and the tick tick BOOM cast (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

Director Neil Patrick Harris comes to this stage production with some strong connections to its early-stage iterations when in 2005 he was cast as Jon in the London premiere. He’s performed in Rent and feels a personal connection to Larson’s work.

Bringing this semi-autographical musical tick, tick…BOOM! to a new audience has inspired Harris to re-invent its earlier productions. He has added a four-person ensemble to the three-hander. Why? More voices? More harmonies? It inserts a bit of Broadway pizazz (We’re a musical with song and dance!!!), but at what cost? It’s distracting. In this staging, actors are over-choreographed – shuffling chairs and other furnishings around the stage in a kind of chorus line does not sharpen the mood. Background video projections distract without providing connections to the script. The Georges Seurat painting used as the promo poster for Sunday in the Park with George popped up for a nanosecond, but it didn’t dovetail with any of Jon’s lines referencing his relationship with Sondheim.

Grey Henson and Brandon Uranowitz (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

An accurate reflection on Larson’s lean years, it drips with sarcasm and angst and is reminiscent of Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch”. It is the heartbeat of his life in New York City and reflects the nucleus of his despair. To be sure there are some very funny bits as in the tune “Sunday” which references Larson’s time waiting tables at the Moondance Diner trying to appease difficult diners during brunch service. As to diminishing its focus, you’re left to wonder if the decision to plump it up with extra actors wasn’t made by an ad hoc committee. If you go, love it for the music which is lush, emotional and extraordinary. Thirteen numbers flesh out the story backed by a four-piece band. It really doesn’t need more than that.

Through February 4th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit


Comments are closed.