Venture Inside the Mind of Rent Composer Jonathan Larson at Vintage Theatre's tick, tick ... BOOM!

Tracy Denver, Andy Seracuse and Hayes Burton rehearse for Vintage Theatre's upcoming production of tick, tick ... BOOM!
Tracy Denver, Andy Seracuse and Hayes Burton rehearse for Vintage Theatre's upcoming production of tick, tick ... BOOM! Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography
Jonathan Larson's hit rock musical Rent took the world by storm in 1996. And although the composer, lyricist and playwright passed away before the musical's opening, the show led to a renewed interest in his earlier work. Coloradans can check out a dynamic staging of Larson's tick, tick ... BOOM! at Vintage Theatre's opening on Friday, March 17.

Before it was a fully produced musical, the show was a one-man rock monologue called 30/90 before being changed to Boho Days, which Larson presented in two workshop readings in 1990 at Second Stage Theater, an off-Broadway playhouse. Following further development, he renamed the piece tick, tick ... BOOM! and performed it as a solo work multiple times around New York from 1991 to 1993.

The production follows musical theater composer Jon as he approaches his thirtieth birthday and questions whether to give up his art for more stability. The semi-autobiographical work explores what life was like for a struggling artist in Soho during the 1990s while working to achieve his dream.

Though the show failed to convince any investors to fund future productions during Larson's life, his work did garner interest from aspiring producer Jeffrey Seller, who continued to follow his work and was instrumental in convincing other producers to invest in Rent after the show's 1996 New York Theatre Workshop production.

"Most people’s exposure to Jonathan Larson is Rent," says Shannon McCarthy, who is directing the Vintage Theatre production. "But what I like about tick, tick ... BOOM! is that we are inside Jonathan Larson's mind. The music has similar sounds to Rent, but with a more alternative flavor. The show's development is also interesting, because it started as a one-man show but was reworked into a three-person show after Jonathan died."
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Tracy Denver strikes a fabulous pose in one of her mutiple roles in tick, tick ... BOOM!
Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography
The musical was restructured after Larson's unexpected death, which occurred the day before the first off-Broadway preview of Rent in 1996. Victoria Leacock Hoffman, one of his college friends and an early producer of tick, tick ... BOOM!, reached out to playwright David Auburn to help her reconfigure the monologue into a three-actor musical. Together they reworked the script so that one actor played Jon while two other performers played his best friend, Michael, and girlfriend, Susan, as well as all the other characters in the show.

The revised musical had its off-Broadway debut in 2001; it has since been produced across the globe and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Andrew Garfield in 2021. The film's popularity and the small-scale nature of the production were key reasons that artistic director Bernie Cardell chose to program the show in Vintage's 67-seat theater.

"We had done musicals in the small theater before, and I was looking for another intimate show to put in the small space," Cardell says. "This fit all the requirements. I thought it was a fun show and would have some broad name recognition because of the movie on Netflix. It also hasn’t been done in this area in quite some time, and its themes about aging, creativity and relationships felt very relatable to me."

After selecting the show for Vintage's 2022–2023 season, Cardell immediately thought of McCarthy to direct the musical.
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Andy Seracuse gets introspective as Jon in Jonathan Larson's tick, tick ... BOOM!
Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography
"Shannon is one of the more energetic people I know, and that’s putting it lightly," Cardell says. "When I am looking at a director, I like to match the energies of the show. I wouldn't ask him to direct Eugene O’Neil because their artistic sensibilities don't align. tick, tick ... BOOM! needs an infusion of energy to be successful, and I thought Shannon would be able to bring that energy."

Although McCarthy has been involved with Vintage for years — including serving on the board of directors, assistant-directing Young Frankenstein in 2021 and marrying his husband on the cabaret stage in the theater's lobby in 2017 — this is the first time that he has served as a director for the company.

"I'd directed other places before, and during Young Frankenstein's process, Bernie saw that I was ready to direct my own show," McCarthy says. "When he called me and asked, 'Will you direct tick, tick ... BOOM!?' I was like, 'Sure, I'll direct that little musical that's really big right now!' The script just really hit me on a real-life level because I've experienced many of the things that Jonathan Larson experienced. Saying yes to the musical was kind of a no-brainer; I knew this show was going to be beautiful."

As part of his research for the musical, McCarthy started to watch the movie on Netflix with his husband, but quickly turned it off.

"While I'm sure the movie is good, in the opening ten minutes they already showed, like, fifty people, and I only get three people in my production," McCarthy says. "I figured if I had any problems coming up with any ideas, I could go back to it, but I haven't had to because I've been so inspired from working with the actors."

McCarthy made the decision early on in the process to double-cast the show as a precaution against COVID-19, based on his experience from serving on the theater's board of directors and having to cancel past performances because of outbreaks in the cast. Since there are only three cast members, McCarthy knew if anyone got sick, they'd have to cancel the entire show.

Rather than risk excess cancellations, Vintage decided to hold auditions for six actors to form two casts that would perform on alternate dates and could serve as understudies for their roles in case the other actor got sick. Though signups started out slow, as they got closer to the audition date, Vintage was forced to add more slots to accommodate interest in the project.

"For six roles, we had almost sixty people audition," McCarthy says. "To narrow it down, Brandon [Bill, the music director] and I called back twelve people, four for each role. When we got to the audition room, the first words out of my mouth were, 'Oh, crap,' because we had twelve amazing people in the room. We narrowed it down by directing them to sing with heart, and seeing who could bring soul to the music; the six who were cast gave me goosebumps."
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Hayes Burton and Tracy Denver as Michael and Susan in tick, tick ... BOOM!
Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography
McCarthy and Bill selected Andy Seracuse as Jon, Tracy Denver as Susan and Justin Ostergard as Michael for their "Moondance" cast that performs Friday and Saturday evenings, as well as Sunday matinees. And for the "Bohemian" cast, which performs Thursday evenings and Saturday matinees, they choose Nick Marshall as Jon, Isabella Duran as Susan, and Hayes Burton as Michael.

"Because we wanted to be mindful of people's time, we didn't call everyone for every rehearsal," Bill says. "But we have six actors who wanted more time. The actors started coming in on days they weren’t called to watch rehearsals or work scenes in the lobby. It is such a blessing that every single person on the production is equally dedicated and invested in the process."

Since Bill has a background as a performer, he approaches his role as music director a little differently than others. Bill considers the music another character in the show that helps set the mood and has emotions to explore.

"When you look at the music or the underscoring through that lens, you play it differently," Bill says. "This is not the most complicated show musically. However, the score is very purposeful, and because it is a little more simplistic stylistically, we can really focus on the musicality and styling of it. There's a purpose behind all the dynamics, and we spent a lot of time discussing the score's meaning so the audience feels its purpose."

Along with the cast's hard work, Bill also emphasized the diligence of the crew and bandmates. "I think it's important that the people you don’t see get a shoutout," Bill says. "Too often, the only time you think about the designers is when they do something you don’t like. Especially since tick, tick ... BOOM! is set in the 1990s, it's easy to forget about the costumes and props because it’s not a period piece. But things like the style of jeans are important; each design element is essential to telling the story."
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The cast and crew of Vintage's production of tick, tick ... BOOM! discuss a scene in the theater
Courtesy of Colleen Lee Photography
Tick, tick ... BOOM! includes costume design by Janey Rusk, lighting design by Emily Maddox, prop design by Biz Schaugaard, sound design by Curt Behm, assistant direction by Kathryn Gourley and stage management by Jeremy Osborne. The show's set was designed by Bill to resemble a tiny New York apartment and make the audience feel as though they were sitting in a living room.

"I wanted everything to be bare bones to keep the audience focused on the fact that they are in Jonathan Larson's brain," McCarthy says. "The set is a simple bare brick wall with a window, and sprinkled around the set are these little nods to Rent. We've got the white bucket that Angel uses as a drum; Mark’s camera is hanging on a railing; and a picture of Santa Fe, but the set is mainly black, other than these splashes of color to keep the audience inside Jonathan's mind."

Though you could stream the story at home, the team urges local audiences to come and experience tick, tick ... BOOM! during its run at Vintage Theatre.

"There is an element of excitement to seeing this story in person at a theater," Bill says. "You could watch the movie at home, and it's a great film, but it's not the same as being there with other audience members in an intimate space with the actor and band performing onstage in front of you. The stage manager is running the show from the booth. Everything is very present, and you'll experience a grander range of emotions by being there live."

tick, tick ... BOOM!, Friday, March 17, through Sunday, April 23; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora. Find tickets, starting at $38, and more information at
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