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No stage tricks as multi-talented Dane Bjornson sings, dances, plays piano, and performs in tick, tick… BOOM!

Audiences taking in Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s production of the Outer Critics Circle Award-winning tick, tick… BOOM! will get to experience something extra special, starting at the end of February.

The play is an autobiographical work of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jonathan Larson, and his struggles in being a composer and playwright before he found success. Sadly, Larson died before he saw the massive success of the play he is most well known for, the blockbuster hit Rent.

Unlike other stage productions of tick, tick… BOOM!, lead actor Dane Bjornson will be taking on one of the hardest roles in theatre, where he will be acting, singing, and playing piano—all while moving on stage and backed by a full rock band.

“It was written so that you didn’t have to have an actor who could play the piano… because it’s it’s hard to find someone who can play at that level, and also act well enough and sing rock well enough to do this,” Bjornson said.

Joe Slabe, the musical director for the production, said he was inspired by how the Netflix movie adaptation had the playing of the piano throughout in a way that wasn’t faked.

“When I went back and looked at the script, I said if we had an actor who could play all a lot of this music, that could be really spectacular,” Slabe said.

After holding auditions across Canada, Forte was able to find Bjornson, who studied music at Grant MacEwan University but also has an extensive stage background. He also appeared on season four of YTV’s The Next Star, which aimed to find the most talented singers under the age of 15 across the nation.

“He has the entire skill set,” said Slabe.

Bjornson plays Jonathan, Jessica Jones Deroche as Susan, Jonathan’s girlfriend and former dancer, and Joel Schaefer plays Michael, Jonathan’s best friend who quit acting to become an advertiser.

The production will be backed by a full rock band consisting of Slabe on keyboards, Carl Janzen on guitar, Darcy Johnstone on bass, and Nathaniel Chiang on the drums.

The production was directed by JP Thibodeau, with Slabe as musical director, and choreographed by Kayla MacKenzie, with costumes by Darcie Howe, lightning by Kris Mish, and graphic design by Jennifer Merio. The stage manager was Serena Lemire, the production manager was Mike Skwara, the production assistant was Jennifer Yeung.

Forte’s production of tick, tick… BOOM! starts on Feb. 28, and runs until March 12 at the Big Secret Theatre in Arts Commons.

Tickets are available at www.artscommons.ca/whats-on/tick-tick-boom.

Show a personal reflection on the life of Larson

Larson, who died in 1996 after having a medical condition misdiagnosed by doctors, never got to see the fruits of his playwriting career.

Larson’s friends took his one-man show of tick, tick… BOOM! and expanded it into a three-act production, which then became an off-Broadway hit.

The theme of struggling in a dead-end job while trying to work towards creative success was something that resonated deeply with Slabe.

“It’s a little bit emotional, obviously, because I feel like I had a similar journey… as someone who writes musicals, and it’s just so relatable,” he said.

While Larson was working on Rent, Slabe was working on his own musical that was also based on La Boheme. The opening musical number for tick, tick… BOOM! is called Thirty/Ninety, which is about facing a 30th birthday in 1990. Slabe wrote his first musical number for PlayRites called Twenty-Nine/Six Twenty-Five, which was about being 26 while making $6.95 an hour.

“I feel like Jonathan Larson and I were living weirdly parallel lives in the 80s and 90s,” said Slabe.

Big production for Forte, and one that was hard to get right

When LWC spoke to Slabe, Forte was in the middle of rehearsals for the production.

He called musicals one of the hardest types of theatre productions to get right.

“You’ve got the live music that’s performed and sung, add in the musicians who are also performing the show, and you’ve got the scenic design element, the costume design, and you got the lights,” Slabe said.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces. But when it really works, there’s nothing that’s better, in my opinion.”

Slabe also said that the Big Secret Theatre would be an intimate venue for the performance, given the max seating of 155.

For fans of the Lin-Manuel Miranda adaptation of the play for Netflix, which starred Andrew Garfield, he said that while the story is the same, and a lot of the songs are the same, they would be getting closer to the action and getting the magic of seeing something live.

“There’s no multiple takes. There’s no film tricks or anything like that. You’re next to it while it’s being created for you, and these performers and musicians and actors, they do this seven times a week to a level that’s amazing,” Slabe said.

“The energy of a live performance is just going to be that much more impactful than watching it on the screen.”