By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

This little musical is a treat: Three excellent actors play three friends who live in New York, who love each other, and who love show business. Good music, clever lyrics. A plot where hope and hard work are rewarded, but, sensibly and realistically, not always.

And here comes the sad part:

Jonathan Larson wrote this autobiographical show, tick, tick…BOOM! about working for five years on a show: "Maybe I've really written the show that will redefine the musical." That show he was working on was Rent, the now-iconic musical about young artists struggling to keep making art, struggling to stay alive.  On February 13, 1996, Rent premiered, and would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony Award and the Richard Rodgers award.

But a few weeks earlier, on January 25, 1996, Jonathan Larson died suddenly of an aneurism, never to know that he had written a legendary hit.

tick, tick, BOOM! makes for a very enjoyable evening: Nick Blaemire plays Jonathan, George Salazar plays his best friend Michael, a former actor, now a Madison Avenue, Beemer-driving success, and Clara Renee plays Susan, Jonathan's girlfriend, a dancer turned dance teacher. She wears a nifty little "green green dress," while Michael wears a double-breasted suit and a pompadour in contrast to Jonathan's creased shirt and corduroy pants. They all have wonderfully expressive faces, strong voices that harmonize well, and they never waste the smart lyrics.

The running gag is that Stephen Sondheim is so revered that his name cannot be uttered aloud, until the thrilling phone call, "Hi, this is Steve Sondheim."  Larson's clever song "Sunday," is an homage to Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George; it's about working in a "blue, silver chromium diner/On the green, purple, yellow, red stools/ Sit the fools/Who should eat at home."

There are lovely ballads, a patter song that is a perfectly realistic telephone quarrel, and choreography (Christine O'Grady) that makes the most of the small stage half filled with an excellent band. The signature move is the two-footed jump onto tables—Blaemire is very lithe—the jump that became the signature move in Rent.

Directed with obvious affection by Jonathan Silverstein, tick, tick…BOOM! doesn't feel nearly as dated as it should, and speaks to anybody who loves the spirit of musical theatre,  anybody who has waited tables while waiting for a break,  and anybody who enjoys good songs sung well.

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Keen Company @ Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. Through Nov. 20.