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 Jons musical career has attained. Meanwhile, Jons best friend, Michael (Wilson Cruz), urges him to get a real job with Michaels marketing firm.
What the audience knows and Larson did not when he wrote "BOOM!" is that six years later, Larsons 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, Larsons 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 Kaufmans Oscar-nominated script for the recent film "Adaptation," "BOOM!" turns artistic angst into an exploration of several sweeping, powerful themes. In Larsons musical, these themes include consumerism, fidelity, Americas 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 Michaels advertising firm. The scene serves as a scathing critique of American corporate culture, while building up to one of the shows biggest laughs when Jon is asked to suggest a name for a new fat-replacement food product.
Although Larsons 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. Jons 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 Larsons later musical. For example, the song "30/90" and the ticking clocks that are the central image of "BOOM!" foreshadow "Rents pivotal anthem, "Seasons of Love," which famously tallies the number of minutes in a year.
If youre at all interested in "Rent," modern music theater, the creative process, or contemporary American culture, youll find "BOOM!" a great way to spend 90 of any years 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 shows official website at www.ticktickboom.net.