The CLO Reopens the Greer Cabaret Theater with a Superb Production of ‘Tick Tick…BOOM!’

Reviewed by MAC HOOVER

Throughout the mid to late 1980s, Jonathan Larson worked feverishly on his original musical Superbia, hoping to bring a new edgy face to the stogy Broadway shows by incorporating contemporary popular music. As he worked to create, he waited tables at the Moondance Diner. He further developed his compositional chops by writing music for cabarets, dance pieces, and underscores for books on cassette. Larson received a Richard Rodgers Development Grant for Superbia, but his anxiety-ridden efforts were never rewarded with a full-scale production. 

In late 1989, he turned his focus to an autobiographical musical, a one-person show he first called 30/90, so named for the title song and subject: who turned 30 in 1990. It chronicled Larson’s struggle of working on Superbia while he tried to navigate friendships and love at a pivotal point in his life when he would decide whether or not to continue to pursue a career in the arts. 30/90 was his journal of a pre-midlife crisis and his ascension into adulthood. 

After several months of writing, Larson’s rock monologue premiered September 6-9, 1990, at the Second Stage Theater under the title BoHo Dayswhich morphed into the show we know as Tick Tick Boom. 

Most theater nerds have seen the movie adaptation of Tick Tick Boom, directed by Lin Manuel Miranda and starring Andrew Garfield. It was a stunning, star-filled romp that was a visual and musical delight.

The CLO’s production of Tick Tick Boom at the newly renovated Greer Cabaret is a different take on the story than Miranda’s film. As directed by Lawson’s long-time friend Martha Banta, this CLO production offers a tender, heart-filled homage to every struggling performer trying to “figure it out.”

The story is one of the internal struggles to exist while finding the passion that is creativity. From Larson’s opening monologue and song, we became captivated by the story of Jonathan and his journey, the paths taken, not taken, and the relationships that matter. 

Ethan Riordan as Jonathan Larson | photo by kgtunney Photography

Ethan Riordan as Larson was masterfully wistful and melancholy. Riordan was captivatingly subtle in his performance, drawing the audience intimately into his character, becoming Larson. His musical prowess was evident in his ability to accompany himself on the piano in many numbers. Riordan’s banter with his co-stars Sarah Bishop and Billy Mason was engaging and endearing with their voices blending beautifully in song. 

(L-R) Ethan Riordan with Sarah Bishop and Billy Mason
Photo by kgtunney Photography

Banta’s staging was simple yet effective in conveying the story’s action, accompanied by Nathan W. Schueler‘s subtle projections on the back wall that added a lovely texture to the story.

This fast-paced ninety minutes of musical exploration was a delight to the eyes and ears. I could watch it again and again. 

The design of this reimagined Greer Cabaret is such an improvement, superb for just this type of production. The audience’s chairs no longer grate across the floors ( and nerves). The configuration of tables and banquettes is an improvement, and the Art Deco panels and lighting provide a comfortable intimacy. 

The sound was good. The voices were melodic and harmonic. The band, under the direction of Robert Neumeyer, subtly enhanced the score without overwhelming the intimate venue. 

The direction of this production was indeed a gift to the audience from Director Martha Banta. She navigated the whirlwind pace of this production while keeping true to the person behind the music, Jonathan Larson. 

Do not miss this inaugural production at the Greer Cabaret of Tick Tick Boom. The venue and the show will not disappoint

Read Sharon Eberson’s feature on creating the CLO’s production of Tick, Tick, BOOM! here.


The CLO’s production of Tick, Tick…BOOM! has performances through October 22nd at the Greer Cabaret in Theater Square downtown. For tickets, visit: https://trustarts.org/production/90474/tick-tick-dot-dot-dot-boom

The Greer Cabaret Theater and Theater Square are projects of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

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