_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________

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tick, tick…Boom! at International City Theater

March 1, 2023

New York City, circa 1990. Jon (Ernesto Figueroa), a waiter and struggling young composer, is on the threshold of his 30’s and feels the pressure building to contribute something meaningful to the world. After nearly a decade in the making, his rock musical Superbia is finally receiving a workshop production — a boost to his confidence and a boon to his career. But his girlfriend Susan (Samantha M. Lawrence) craves suburban stability outside the city, and his best friend and roommate Michael (Phillip J. Lewis) has abandoned the starving artist lifestyle in order to climb the corporate ladder and buy expensive belts. Michael tempts Jon with offers to join his company, but at the cost of abandoning his dream of musical theater glory. Jon, however, decides to forgo a traditional, long-term relationship and financial stability and instead remain in the game, committed to his love of art.

Ernesto Figueroa’s Jon is charming and gently guides the musical’s throughline, sometimes struggling to find the character’s emotional range. Samantha M. Lawrence is a versatile performer, who plays several characters throughout the evening including Jon’s girlfriend Susan. Phillip J. Lewis eases into his performance as Michael as the evening progresses. Individually each actor is vocally strong and has their moments to shine — but with little chemistry between them, they struggle with the story’s more intimate moments.

Kari Hayter directs a fast-paced production, sometimes at the expense of nuance. Set designer Matt Scarpino places the band on a raised platform and creates a fluidly shifting series of NYC locations stage level. Donna Ruzika’s lighting design is simple and serviceable. Costume designer Kim DeShazo keeps the clothing subtly of-the-era and adaptable to the fluid shift of characters and location. Sound designer Dave Mickey finds a good mix of vocals and live accompaniment.

The music is truly the soul of this production. Music director Anthony Zediker (piano) Nicole Marcus (drums), Cody Cadena (guitar) and Khris Kempis (bass) play an integral role in the night’s entertainment and are the highlight of the show.

Jonathan Larson defined an era of musical theater in his brief and impactful life. He had something deeply personal to say with tick, tick…Boom! Life as an artist becomes increasingly difficult as time marches on: staying the course takes courage, passionate commitment and enduring love. Larson died suddenly in 1996 from an aortic aneurism caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome the night before his Off-Broadway premiere of Rent, for which he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama later that year. He was 35 years old.

International City Theatre, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach; Thurs.–Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 2 pm; through Mar. 5. (562) 436-4610 or InternationalCityTheatre.org. Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.