"As Susan, Alysa King brings great poise to her role"
By Greg Burliuk, Kingston Whig-Standard
One of the great tragedies of modern musical theatre is that the creator ofRent,Jonathan Larson, died just before the musical was to open and become a big hit on Broadway.
BeforeRent,however he wroteTick, Tick...Boom,which details his struggles trying to make it as a composer of musicals. Larson performed it as a solo piece and after his death, it was re-jigged to include other actors.
It's a piece which is by turns wistful and angst-driven but also witty and a commentary on the life of young people living in New York in 1990. It's not exactly an ad for the motto follow your dreams, but for those who didn't, it's a reminder of what they missed.
Blue Canoe Productions was the perfect company to premiere this piece here because all of its members are either high school or university students, and the company has had enough experience mounting bigger musicals that it does fine here with this intimate one.
The main character Jon, feels he is at a crossroads. He's about to turn 30, but he's still waiting on tables and trying to launch his musical career. Meanwhile his girlfriend Susan is making noises about settling down and even leaving the Big Apple, and his best friend Mike has left showbiz for a lucrative career in marketing. Should Jon join Mike and sell-out, leave with Susan, or keep slogging it out in the theatre?
Obviously there are more crucial dilemmas than this one, and Jon's angst occasionally seems like whining. But this smart play tackles other themes through the musical numbers. The song Sunday, for example, satirizes fussy Sunday brunch patrons at the restaurant where Jon works. Sugar, is all about addictions to all things sweet. And a non-musical scene briefly mocks brainstorming at a marketing firm.
Best of all the music in the show, none of which I'd ever heard before, is bright and tuneful, and in this production accompanied by a smart young quartet. Note to director Michael Sheppard: you should have these guys playing something, anything, before the show starts rather than just standing there for 10 minutes waiting for the lights to go down.
Most of the singing is done by the three main characters, all of whom have great voices that don't need amplification in the intimate quarters of the Baby Grand.
It's easy to see the one-man origin of the piece however, since Jon is in every scene, sings in most of the songs and is also the show's narrator. Without a good Jon, this musical would never get off the ground. Luckily Josh Blackstock is more than up to the task.
For starters he looks the part of a wide-eyed clean-cut boy next door, and acts like one too, which makes it seem logical that he would be struggling in the big city.
Blackstock is a great struggler and has a natural singing voice that works well with the play's songs.
Although he is sometimes a little wooden with his movements, Jordan Richards is very likeable as Mike, Jon's best friend, who on the one hand enjoys his material success, but on the other still feels like something is missing in his life. As Susan, Alysa King brings great poise to her role, which works well with her character who is supposed to be a dancer.
The remaining four actors, Marta McDonald, Sue Del-Mei, Brianna Roberts and Tyler Check play the chorus and have small parts. Roberts gets to shine on the torchy ballad Come To Your Senses, playing an actor who is sweet on Jon.
Those of us who aren't young anymore are reminded by this play that youth can sometimes be painful. But the play's message is that ultimately it's worth the risk to follow your dreams. You'll leave the theatre feeling a little mushy, but having been vastly entertained.
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A musical by Jonathan Larson
Music director:Drew Moor
Stage manager:Carin Ann Crabtree
A Blue Canoe Productions production now playing at the Baby Grand until June 26.
Jon Josh Blackstock
Michael Jordan Richards
Susan Alysa King
Karessa Brianna Roberts
Rating:* * * * (out of five)