Tick_tick_blue2Sebastian Garcia, Spiro Galiatsatos and Kaitlyn Kurkemelis in “tick, tick… BOOM!”


That insistent ticking you hear at the outset of the musical “tick, tick…BOOM!” is explained away by its central character as “the sound of one man’s mounting anxiety.”

It’s a sound that Dave Cruse has experienced firsthand; part of “that old dilemma when you turn 30…like, is this REALLY the end of youth?”

The 30-year-old native of Middletown’s East Keansburg section has found a good deal of fulfillment as an actor and director in shows produced by the Monmouth Players, First Avenue Playhouse and other area troupes. He’s even managed to land himself a genuine dream job, as manager of the historic St. George Theatre in Staten Island.


This Valentine’s Day sees a longstanding dream ticked off the Cruse bucket list, when the curtain goes up on his own staging of “tick, tick…BOOM!,” the autobiographical, rock-infused musical by Jonathan Larson that opens Thursday at Brookdale Community College’s Performing Arts Center.

Larson, of course, needs little to no introduction as the creator of “Rent,” the Pulitzer-winning ensemble piece that’s been hailed as the “Hair” of its post-Aquarian age. This “Rent” predecessor was originally performed by Larson himself in 1990 as a “rock monologue” inspired by his disappointing experiences in staging his ambitious musical “Superbia.”

After the author’s death in 1996, Larson’s father retained playwright David Auburn (“Proof“) to rework “tick, tick…BOOM!” with a three-actor cast, and it’s this expanded but still intimate version that comes to BCC’s Lincroft campus for its Monmouth County debut.

If Cruse had his druthers, “tick” would have long since clicked with local audiences. A previous production at First Avenue had to be canceled when the Larson family withdrew the rights. Another was scrapped when Cruse couldn’t work it into his schedule. Finally, when Brookdale theater prof John Bukovec announced that the school had secured the rights to the musical (part of a busy Winter/Spring calendar at the PAC), BCC alum Cruse welcomed the chance to work once more with his former acting teacher, having already done duty as assistant director to Bukovec last year.

The trio of actors, all current students at Brookdale, is headed by Spiro Galiatsatos as “Jon,” the thirtyish struggling composer and part-time waiter who clearly carries more than trace elements of the late Larson. Sebastian Garcia plays Jon’s friend, Michael — a sellout as an artist, and an apparent success in business. Kaitlyn Kurkemelis is Jon’s increasingly impatient girlfriend Susan (all but Spiro double up in additional supporting roles).

A four-piece rock combo led by Brookdale faculty member Keith Heimann rounds out the onstage personnel for this alternately heartbreaking and uplifting look at how one’s dreams can make for an often messy overlap with everyday life — a work that includes show-within-a-show snippets of the real-life Larson opus “Superbia.”

“It’s a lot more raw than what you usually see in New Jersey community theater,” the director says, adding, “there are moments that ring true to me.”

While Cruse opines that “there was nothing that really defined (Larson’s) generation,” the Age of AIDS is addressed in “tick” just as it would later be in the “Rent” script, the difference here being that “you’re not beaten over the head with a stick,” says Cruse. “You see a more realistic moment when it hits home
for one of the characters.”

“This show tells the autobiographical tale of how ‘Rent’ came about…Jon wants to wake up every morning and write a song that that everyone remembers, and that’s just what happened; he changed the musical forever.”

Opening V-Day at 8p and running one weekend only, with showtimes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings (as well as 2p matinees Saturday and Sunday), “tick, tick…BOOM!” kicks off a performing-arts season that continues on Feb. 23 with a concert by Art Deco. Tickets ($10 general admission) may be reserved by calling the PAC box office at 732.224.2411.