The student weekly of St. Olaf | Monday, September 22, 2014 | Subscribe
ISSUE 116 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/11/2003

Critic's Corner: "BOOM!" explores powerful themes with great music

By Carl Schroeder
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 11, 2003

On the verge of a milestone birthday, a young composer is faced with a series of life-altering choices involving love, music and money.

This is the setup of the semi-autobiographical Jonathan Larson musical "tick…tick…BOOM!" It is a three-performer show which recently completed a run at the Historic Pantages Theater in downtown Minneapolis.

Written in 1990, "BOOM!" tells the story of Jon (played by Christian Campbell), a struggling New York composer about to turn 30. Jon wants to write the musical that will revitalize American theater for the new millennium. However, his girlfriend Susan (Nicole Ruth Snelson) wants them to get married and move out of the city, which would upset what little momentum Jon’s musical career has attained. Meanwhile, Jon’s best friend, Michael (Wilson Cruz), urges him to get a real job with Michael’s marketing firm.

What the audience knows and Larson did not when he wrote "BOOM!" is that six years later, Larson’s revolutionary musical "Rent" would take Broadway by storm, win a Pulitzer Prize and earn him millions of fans worldwide. This subtext makes "BOOM!" a fascinating look into the mind of an artist on the verge of a breakthrough. Tragically, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm shortly before "Rent" premiered in 1996, robbing him of the chance to witness his own success.

Even without this background, however, Larson’s tale of holding on to your dreams in the face of adversity stands on its own as a powerful piece of theater. Much like Charlie Kaufman’s Oscar-nominated script for the recent film "Adaptation," "BOOM!" turns artistic angst into an exploration of several sweeping, powerful themes. In Larson’s musical, these themes include consumerism, fidelity, America’s love-hate relationship with major cities, the career/family dynamic and the spread of the AIDS virus. "BOOM!" proves relevant to anyone trying to understand American culture at the turn of the millennium.

In one particularly memorable scene, Jon undergoes a disastrous job interview at Michael’s advertising firm. The scene serves as a scathing critique of American corporate culture, while building up to one of the show’s biggest laughs when Jon is asked to suggest a name for a new fat-replacement food product.

Although Larson’s 12 original songs for "BOOM!" are not as memorable as those in "Rent," they do keep the story moving and help flesh out the personalities of the three main characters. Jon’s solo number "Why," delivered shortly after Michael reveals he has AIDS, is particularly powerful.

Fans of "Rent" will have fun pointing out some of the ideas in "BOOM!" that were more fully fleshed out in Larson’s later musical. For example, the song "30/90" and the ticking clocks that are the central image of "BOOM!" foreshadow "Rent”’s pivotal anthem, "Seasons of Love," which famously tallies the number of minutes in a year.

If you’re at all interested in "Rent," modern music theater, the creative process, or contemporary American culture, you’ll find "BOOM!" a great way to spend 90 of any year’s 525,600 minutes.

Having completed its run at the Historic Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, "tick…tick…BOOM!" is currently on a national tour. This summer, it will be visiting several major cities, including Chicago and Boston.

For more information, visit the show’s official website at

Printer Friendly version of this page Printer friendly version | E-mail a Copy of the Article to a Friend Email this | Write the editors | More articles by Carl Schroeder

Related Links

More Stories

Page Load: 78 milliseconds