Three gender nonconforming actors stand onstage, singing a rock song. The performers on the left and right are slightly back and facing each other with microphones in hand. The performer in the center is facing out, holding a microphone and with their left leg slightly raised and their right arm flung to the side of their torso.
From left: Luke Halpern, Alec Phan, and Crystal Claros in Tick, tick . . . BOOM! at BoHo Theatre Credit: Jenn Udoni/Franco Images Photography

It would be hard to find a more appealing trio to embody Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical tick, tick . . . BOOM! than the ones in BoHo Theatre’s production—and “embody” is very much the relevant word. Director Bo Frazier chose to cast trans and gender nonconforming actors as aspiring composer Jon, his girlfriend Susan, and his best friend Michael. Some cisgender audience members might find these choices startling to begin with, but before the end of the first number they’ll have transcended their shock and be rooting for youth and raw talent in all its forms.  

Tick, tick . . . BOOM!
Through 2/5: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 3 and 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; also industry night Mon 1/30 7:30 PM; open captions Sat 1/21 and 1/28 3 PM; Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, bohotheatre.com, $35 general, $20 seniors, military, and first responders, $12 transgender and gender nonconforming people, students, and educational professionals

Alec Phan as Jon takes the part—a composer on the verge of his 30th birthday, trying to decide whether to “sell out” or keep waiting tables to write music—and infuses it with all the passion and terror of anyone who’s ever discovered that life doesn’t unspool as predicted. As Michael, Crystal Claros has a knockout voice and the comic chops to turn into any number of supporting characters, while Luke Halpern is both a persuasive Susie and an indelible neglectful cigarette-smoking New York agent.

The show itself is more revue than true musical: originally performed solo by Larson himself, its narrative was later supplied by playwright David Auburn. But some of the songs are truly moving (“Real Life”) and others witty, and all get their due and then some from the cast and band under music director Harper Caruso. As the characters struggle with their fear of getting old, it’s hard not to reflect on the fact Larson himself never did, dying at age 35 the day before the first Broadway preview of his signature piece Rent.