They’re singing Happy Birthday! Tick, Tick… Boom at Winding Road!

By Zachary Austin (Guest Reviewer)

Allie Rowe as Susan, Tyler Gastelum as Jon, Zach Wetzel as Michael photo credit to Alex J. Alegria.

“The most exciting part of the entire production was the live band…The band executed the music with a beautiful finesse, and furthermore, they were living, breathing characters in their own right.”

Everyone has experienced, at least once in their life, a time when their brain is running a hundred miles an hour, leaving the rest of them behind in a sea of uncertainty, on a life raft with no oars. This feeling is a driving factor for many artists. It drives them into the next audition, to their next canvas, or it signals a season of change when it might be time to move into a new chapter in which they forge a new path away from the arts. This is what the Winding Road Theater Ensemble explores with their production of Tick, Tick… Boom!

This semi-autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, the man who brought us Rent, explores what it is like to be a starving artist searching for the validation we all crave. The show starts not with a musical number but with Jon (played by Tyler Gastelum) himself stepping into the audience and letting us know what to expect for the evening. It is at that moment the audience is invited to look intimately into the life of a 29-year-old trying to find any amount of success before he turns 30, which is in one week. We see him experience love, loss, and anxiety, and explore what it means to be an artist trying to navigate the industry he so desperately wants to break into.

Gastelum guides us from one moment of Jon’s life to another giving the audience an insight into Jon’s deep-seeded uncertainty of his situation. Jon is a difficult role to execute and Gastelum gave it his all. There were a few moments where the part may have extended beyond his vocal range but that didn’t stop him from giving every moment the energy the show deserves. Gastelum may have been a near perfect casting choice as every time he turned to the audience for any of his plentiful asides, he makes the audience feel included in all of Jon’s trials and tribulations. Castmates Allie Rowe and Zach Wetzel, who play Susan and Michael respectively, provide the crucial support needed to fully experience the story. Rowe is given the enormous task of not only acting as a foil to Jon in the role of Susan, but also playing Jon’s ever-elusive representation. Rowe makes the changes clear at the drop of a hat and it is not to be missed. Wetzel’s portrayal of Michael, Jon’s best friend since childhood, had a rigidity in his acting that left the audience craving more connection and emotion. Wetzel’s vocal talent, however, is not to be understated. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him in “Real Life.”  

The lighting by Alex J. Alegria had moments that dazzled the audience and left them in awe, however, I found most of the lights to be a little one-note. The stage was covered in a wash of one color which allowed the audience to see every little movement on stage to the point that it was distracting from the main action of the moment. This production would not have happened without the artistic vision of co-directors Maria A. Caprile and Zach Wetzel, who clearly understood the emotional journey on which the script and libretto take the audience. The stage did not offer much space once the live band was set up, but Caprile ensured that would not stop the audience from enjoying the hard work everyone put into the production. In addition to Wetzel playing Michael and co-directing, he was also the music director. While all the music was pleasant to the ear, there were a few moments that the sheer number of responsibilities for Wetzel may have come at a cost of the audience’s attention being split from the main focus on the show. There were moments while his other castmates were singing and furthering the plot in which I found myself distracted by Wetzel, not so subtly, conducting the band in full view of the audience while also playing Michael.

The most exciting part of the entire production was the live band. The band (consisting of David Craig on piano, Carlos Soloranzo on drums, Sam Hay on bass, and Brian McElroy on guitar) really gave the production dimension and depth. The band executed the music with a beautiful finesse, and furthermore, they were living, breathing characters in their own right. Each individual member of the band had their own personality they brought to the production and I couldn’t help but be engrossed by Hay and McElroy’s visible pleasure they got from doing what they love.

If you or a loved one have ever had any interest in seeing the stage production, this is as good a time as any to run, not walk, to the Cabaret space at the Temple of Music and Art and experience the magic that they are giving to the community. Tick, Tick… Boom! runs through March 5th. Tickets can be purchased at


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