90s rock booms in Calhoun Cabaret

The whole cast of “tick, tick … Boom!” — Jack O’Reilly ’13, Kyle Picha ’14 and Ari Fernandez '15 — basically stood for the entirety of the musical. Ouch.

Thankfully, the four or five clocks ticking over Jon’s (Jack O’Reilly ’13) opening monologue did not continue throughout the entire production of “tick, tick … Boom!” that is showing at the Calhoun Cabaret this weekend. The ticking does, though, return with regularity throughout this production of “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson’s lesser-known autobiographical rock musical, effectively conveying the protagonist’s “mounting anxiety” over his lack of success and future as a musical composer.

“tick, tick … Boom!” has a much smaller scale than “Rent,” with only three actors and comparatively less tragedy, but deals with similar issues of changing relationships, disillusionment and fulfillment. Add to this the fact that O’Reilly’s voice has an edge similar to that of Anthony Rapp, who played Mark in the original Broadway production and movie adaptation of “Rent,” and you get a lead who ably anchors the show’s musical numbers. While his vocals are expressive, O’Reilly is less effective at conveying his understanding of the character. His acting sometimes feels overbearing and not fully thought-out — it seems, for instance, that he shortchanges some of Larson’s dry humor because of his determination to sound exciting and youthful.

O’Reilly’s performance is, to an extent, illustrative of that of the cast as a whole. Kyle Picha ’14 shines as Jon’s best friend, with his vocals complementing O’Reilly’s especially well when the two perform duets. Along with his adept handling of the rock score, Picha also brought the most humor to the show, at one point providing the audience with an especially memorable moment involving a Twinkie. Ari Fernandez ’15, playing Jon’s girlfriend Susan, adds clear, sweet vocals to the mix, though her influence is at times limited by the loud instrumentals.

Yet Fernandez’s acting has weak points as well, albeit in ways that are different from O’Reilly’s. She alternated between infusing her dialogues with subtleties and liveliness and going through scenes or musical numbers with a glazed look on her face. While this may have been an artistic choice meant to reflect the nature of emotional distance or the struggles of finding happiness, it came off as disconnected more than anything else.

This is a cast, then, defined by its vocal performance and strong musical cohesion with its band — but one whose acting during musical numbers and vocal scenes is occasionally underwhelming. The actors’ stage presence, meanwhile, is undermined by minimal choreography and movement, particularly during musical numbers.

The show’s production end is consistently impressive. The set of Jon’s apartment is the perfect mix of cool and struggling artist, with a highlight being the poster of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat, serving as a reference to Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.” (As a side-note, Larson’s song “Sunday,” which had O’Reilly singing about brunch toast and decaffeinated tea while working at a diner, is also a very funny take on Sondheim’s song of the same title.) Less obvious parts of the staging were deftly executed by producer and lighting designer Laurel German ’15, who employed spotlights and string lights to elevate both the mood and drama of the production.

“tick, tick … Boom!” is a relatable show being staged in one of Yale’s more intimate theater venues. Students can connect with the characters’ indecision as they make plans for their future careers and lives. Where else will they get to do that in what’s basically a rock concert format?

“tick, tick … Boom!” will run through Sunday in the Calhoun Cabaret theater.

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