Credit: Rob Grayson

When Tick, Tick…BOOM! opens at Center Stage on Friday, April 29, it will be a milestone for Out of the Box Theatre Company (OOTB) and the Santa Barbara musical theater community. OOTB originally planned the show for February, but Omicron pushed that back. This new limited engagement brings the city’s most enduring independent production company of contemporary musicals back to its original home. In this black box theater, they have staged such hits as The Rocky Horror Show, Heathers, American Psycho, and Spring Awakening.

This one is special not only because it’s the first we’ve heard from them since Covid but also because it tells the (mostly) true story of Jonathan Larson, the creator of RENT and, in many ways, the founding figure in the history of the 21st-century musical. Without RENT, it becomes tough to imagine most of the shows that Out of the Box has produced over the years and some they have not — Hamilton, for one example.

If so many great recent musicals are “post-RENT,” that’s more reason to learn what we can about the personal circumstances and creative processes of the pre-RENT moments in Larson’s tragically short life. The play’s title refers to two ways in which Larson felt the pressure of time as he turned 30 back in 1990 in New York City. He had spent years working on a script for Superbia, an adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 that never came to anything. So that’s one clock — the elapsed time devoted to a non-starter.Then there’s the BOOM! The AIDS crisis peaked in 1990, and Larson’s friends were dying of it at an alarming rate. If there was ever a place and time outside of war and pandemic when 30-year-olds were alarmed by their mortality rate, this was it. Filled with Larson’s trademark gifts for melody, irony, and grit, and starring Nikko Arce as Jonathan, Carzie Carter as Michael, and Samantha Eve as Susan, Tick, Tick…BOOM! is sure to rekindle your love for contemporary musicals. Shows are Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 1 at 2 p.m. For tickets, go to

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on June 7, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


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