MetroStage's "Tick, Tick ... Boom!" is a three-person rock musical of substance, completed posthumously from the work of the composer of "Rent." It bursts with song, power and emotion in a new production at MetroStage starring Stephen Gregory Smith in the role of the composer at his 30th birthday.
Smith has been a featured player in many marvelous musical productions over the past five years. He won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Performance for his role as the younger brother in Signature Theater's production of "110 In The Shade." He's been Jack of Beanstalk fame in "Into The Woods," Lee Harvey Oswald in "Assassins," a reporter in "Meet John Doe," a soldier in "One Red Flower," a college student in "Allegro" and a baseball player in "Damn Yankees," but he has never had a chance to break out in a starring role this way and he makes the most of it.
Singing with power and emotion and acting with humor and intensity, Smith leads the cast through the one-act, 100-minute musical backed by a rock combo of keyboards, guitar, bass and drums in a performance of remarkable balance.
His co-star is the highly talented Felicia Curry, who turns in a strong performance of her own. The play is written in such a way that she plays both his girlfriend, his agent and a girl in the cast of the show he has written. It is the kind of situation where an actress frequently over-plays the differences in order to keep the audience from getting confused. For the most part, Curry avoids that trap and her singing is spectacular. As the show approaches its conclusion she has a number titled "Come To Your Senses" that she delivers with impressive emotion. When she's finished, you may think you've just seen the highlight of the show. Smith, however, tops it with the next number, "Why."
THE THIRD MEMBER of the cast is Matt Pearson, who plays the composer's best friend and former roommate. He handles all the demands of the part and has his own moments to shine, especially his rocking release in "No More," perhaps the heaviest real rock number Jonathan Larson wrote for this or for "Rent."
He is subtly superb in the vocal support behind Smith on one of Larson's loveliest ballads, "See Her Smile."
Derek Bowley leads the combo from the keyboard at the rear of the set that Adam Koch designed. Bowley is also credited as musical director. Whether it is to his credit or sound designer Mat Rowe, it is notable that the blend between vocals and the band is outstanding. Every word can be understood and every beat, riff and underscore from the band is clear.
The production is directed and choreographed by Matthew Gardiner, the resident assistant director at Arlington's Signature Theatre. He sets the pacing for the early dialogue scenes a bit slow and has a few lapses in attention to detail. But when it comes to building the intensity of the show as it rises to its climax, his work is very good, indeed. Of course, building to a smashing climax is easiest when you have performances as strong as those of Smith, Curry and Pearson.
The 2007-08 season in local theaters is just getting underway, but it is clear that, with "Tick, Tick … Boom!," MetroStage has a show that will be recognized as a highlight of the new season.
Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.