At Mobtown Players, a near-perfect explosion in `tick, tick ... BOOM!'




With the much-anticipated movie version of Rent set to open next month, Mobtown Players has mounted an earlier show by Rent creator Jonathan Larson, tick, tick ... BOOM!

Begun by Larson before Rent and completed after his untimely death at age 35 by script consultant David Auburn (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Proof), the autobiographical tick, tick ... BOOM! is receiving a rousing - but bittersweet - production under Terry J. Long's direction.

The bittersweet part is a matter of retrospect. The ticking that Larson heard when he was working on this musical was the psychological time bomb of his approaching 30th birthday. For his alter-ego in the show (also named Jonathan), that ticking was a taunting reminder that he was approaching this milestone without having had a show produced. Tragically, in 1996 Larson was the victim of another kind of time bomb - an aortic aneurysm, which ended his life only hours after the final dress rehearsal of Rent.

Knowing this history increases the poignancy of such lyrics as: "With only so much time to spend/Don't want to waste the time I'm given." At Mobtown, these words are sung by lead actor Evan Shyer, a compelling singer who knows how to "act" a song. Shyer delivers an empathetic portrayal of Jonathan as a young composer struggling with major life choices.

Director Long represents those choices visually in the number "Johnny Can't Decide," in which Shyer stands center stage, flanked by the show's two other actors, Shelly Work as Jonathan's girlfriend, Susan, and Howard J. Turner as his best friend, Michael, an actor-turned-marketing researcher. Shyer faces front while the other two face him and sing of their aspirations for him. Susan wants Jonathan to settle down and raise a family; Michael wants him to "bend his dreams" and join him in the corporate world.

Although the actors' voices blend together to create a strong pop sound (accompanied by an equally strong band, all under the musical direction of Ted McCadden), the production isn't always this smooth. The slide projections, which constitute most of the scenery, tend to be too literal and uninspired, and Shyer detracts from his otherwise fine performance by repeatedly toying with his hair.

But the show remains a lovely preamble to Rent. In a song titled "Why?," Jonathan sings about working on lyrics "Over and over and over/Till I get it right." The folks at Mobtown may not get everything right, but they come close.

Showtimes at Mobtown, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Oct. 30, through Nov. 5. Tickets are $15 (except the 8 p.m. Oct. 28, two-for-the-price-of-one performance). For more information, call 410-467-3057.

Brown in concert

Jason Robert Brown, whose musical The Last Five Years, ends its extended run at Everyman Theatre on Sunday, performed two concerts at the theater earlier this week. Accompanied by his band, the Caucasian Rhythm Kings, Brown was joined by guest vocalist Lauren Kennedy.

His program on Sunday night included songs from his first solo album, Wearing Someone Else's Clothes, a country-western song he wrote for the short-lived musical Urban Cowboy (sung by Kennedy), and even a sneak peek at two numbers from Honeymoon in Vegas, the musical he's writing with screenwriter Andrew Bergman.

During a question-and-answer period, Brown gave a brief demonstration of his songwriting process, sitting down at the keyboard, singing a song title and then, as he put it, letting his "fingers find the way to build the song."

When he and the band reached the evening's penultimate number, the songwriter wryly announced, "This is the last number I'll do before my encore." His confidence in the audience's desire for more was not misplaced. The concert earned two enthusiastic standing ovations.

Reading at Ford's

State of the Union, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning political drama, launches this season's reading series at Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. N.W., Washington, at 7 p.m. Monday. The cast will be headed by Tony Award-winner Judith Ivey and area actors Rick Foucheux, Nancy Robinette and Ted van Griethuysen. Admission is free but reservations are requested. Call 202-347-6262.

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