So it was with a good deal of excitement and a wee bit of apprehension that I accepted producer Zach Zamchick’s– himself a theater dynamo already, while still a student at a little liberal arts school called Sarah Lawrence– kind and challenging offer to have me helm his production of Jonathan Larson’s intimate rock musical Tick, Tick… Boom! for both his student-run arts collective The Kwikees and Tenafly Presents… this summer. (Plus, I was hanging around my hometown and ready to indulge the theater bug again.)
I first met Zach a good (can this be true?!) eight years ago, when I walked into Tenafly Middle School, looking for a young man to play the role of an Aryan youth (every parent’s dream) in the Drove Theater Co.’s production of God’s Country. I was directing this twelve actor opus, to be performed on the Lower East Side at the Connelly Theater, and co-producing, and we desperately needed a mature-enough young man to handle the challenges of playing– did I mention?!– an Aryan youth. We found him in Zach (he still tells the story of me throwing a chair at him in rehearsal, to elicit fear– hmm, curiously I have no memory of this), and though the seasoned cast corrupted him a bit, we managed to present a well-staged professional production of that challenging and rarely produced play (domestic terrorism! anti-Semitism! militias!).
So earlier this summer I dug out the old Harold Clurman textbooks, and trotted into production meetings with Zach and our tremendous, hard-working, thank-goodness-she’s-here musical director, Kelsey Bramson (she of the prestigious Peabody Institute at John Hopkins, so, yeah, she knows music). What followed was, as any director including the late Mr. H. Clurman will tell you, is the single most important aspect of any production: Casting. And after an arduous, difficult casting process, we got lucky– we wound up with undoubtedly the three finest choices (truth) I saw: Briel Waxman, a Tenafly High School graduate and Grinnell College student, as the show’s lone female principle, “Susan”; Steve Wei, off to Temple University this fall to study acting, in the pivotal part of “Michael”; and Malcolm Morano (yes, he of the Broadway shows Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and, yes, the criminally underrated The Farnsworth Invention by some dude named Aaron Sorkin), off to Fordham in the fall, in the lead role of “Jon”. (And I’ll say it publicly, right here on the Internet: They’re one of the finest casts I’ve ever had the privilege of directing.)
Now, everyone knows the story of Rent composer Jonathan Larson by now– the years of struggle that accompany any young composer balanced by the charming bonhomie with which he approached ‘em, and the tragic death the night before the first workshop production of Rent– the very production that went on to win him the Tony, the Pulitzer, and the worldwide success that had eluded him during his lifetime. Tick, Tick… Boom!, which Larson had staged as a rock monologue under various titles, tells the story of Jonathan Larson in those struggling years– a now-intimate three person story, shaped after his death, that features beautifully crafted songs that harken towards Rent.
I hadn’t led a rehearsal in some time, but we plunged in, finding the moments, setting the blocking, and (thanks to Kelsey) staging the musical numbers. Thankfully we have a damn talented cast, and the show– as shows do– came together and took on a life of its own.
What followed was a wonderfully enjoyable summer of nighttime rehearsals (6 to 10 pm, the Garden Room– thanks to the Mayor), with occasional side diversions (i.e., cast-and-production bonding): an outing to the city to see Bryan Fenkart perform; a successful community night at Blue Moon; lunch with the generous George St. Playhouse artistic director– and Jon Larson pal– David Saint; an infamous concert). And, of course, rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals,– What’s your action?! and Okay, how’re we working that transition? and, soon enough, Hell yeah, you guys sound damn good. There were meetings with our incredibly talented costume designer, days building the nifty-looking set, and nights layering in the tremendous four-piece band.
Last week, in the space (Tenafly Arts, on Atwood Avenue) tech began in earnest. Tech! I hadn’t done a tech week in a while. Let’s stuff over a 100 light cues into a 90 minute, intermission-less piece, why not? Who has the manuscript paper prop, people?! And here we are, with everything, every disparate little moment that makes a musical come together, coming together– heading into dress and then final dress.
And then Thursday, the show– Thursday, August 12th at 8 pm; Friday, August 13th at 8 pm; Saturday, August 14th at 3 pm and 8 pm. And screw it, I’ll say it: Thanks to the producer, the musical director, the cast, the band, the production team, it’s gonna be a damn fine show.