On the eve of the preem of the long-awaited film adaptation of Jonathon Larson’s tuner “Rent,” his earlier autobiographical work-in-progress has been impressively buoyed for the stage by scripter David Auburn (“Proof”) and helmer Scott Schwartz (“Bat Boy”). Despite its lack of a dramatic throughline, “tick … tick … BOOM!” offers a poignant slice-of-life chronicle of a callow artist traveling the road to greatness. The 12-number rock-tinged score is brought to zesty life by a perfectly cast three-member ensemble, underscored by a synergistic instrumental quartet led by keyboardist Brent Crayon.
Set in 1990, the action follows the woefully insecure New York-based songwriter Jon (Andrew Samonsky) in the days leading up to a workshop staging of his new rock musical, “Superbia.”
Samonsky exudes an appealing amalgam of helplessness and resentment as Jon bemoans the end of his youth, amplified by the constant ticking of his internal clock, leading relentlessly to the inevitable “boom” of his 30th birthday (the song “30/90”).
Offering various degrees of comfort and criticism (“Johnny Can’t Decide”) are Jon’s lifelong friend and roommate, actor-turned-successful businessman Michael (Wilson Cruz), and Jon’s dancer girlfriend, Susan (Natascia Diaz).
Cruz and Diaz also portray a menagerie of colorful Gotham folk who cross Jon’s path, including his hard-bitten, uninvolved agent (Diaz), his mildly disapproving dad (Cruz) and a hilarious, agenda-driven corporate she-devil (Diaz again).
This is Jon’s story; Michael and Susan are barely discernible subplot excursions off the main path, but they’re given memorable portrayals. Cruz, who played Angel in “Rent” on Broadway and in the original touring company, displays impressive vocal chops, instilling Michael with an admirable sense of purpose. Michael is totally unapologetic about his plan to live well in the corporate world rather than struggle in Jon’s (“No More,” “Real Life”).
Diaz, who created her role Off Broadway, brings a haunting vulnerability and soaring vocal veracity to Susan. In one of the tuner’s most telling numbers, “Therapy,” Susan and Jon attempt to bridge the ever-growing commitment gap between them. They display the lighter side of their relationship in the comically seductive “Green Green Dress.”
However, the musical highlight is Diaz’s sumptuous, power-lung rendering of the ballad “Come to Your Senses,” the show’s most melodically rich number.
Both Cruz and Diaz have considerable terping talent, but helmer Schwartz and choreographer Christopher Gattelli wisely contain the duo’s hoofing within the slight, introspective storyline. The actors do manage to stretch a bit when Jon’s need for energy takes the ensemble out on a Twinkie fix (“Sugar”).
Despite its impressive pedigree, “tick … tick … BOOM!” is an underdeveloped boutique tuner that needs a top-notch ensemble and production team to give it legs. This opening salvo of the Ventura-based Rubicon Theater Company’s eighth season has all the right stuff.