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Neil Patrick Harris will direct Kennedy Center’s ‘Tick, Tick ... Boom!’

The Jonathan Larson autobiographical musical launches the Broadway Center Stage season Jan. 26

Neil Patrick Harris onstage at the Love Rocks NYC concert at the Beacon Theatre last March. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
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“Tick, Tick ... Boom!” has long been a passion project for Neil Patrick Harris. He’d been offered the lead in an off-Broadway staging of Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical, but film commitments prevented him from playing the part until its London premiere, in 2005.

Now he rekindles his relationship with the show by the composer of “Rent,” in a different role: as director of the concert version of “Tick, Tick ... Boom!” that launches the Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage season in January.

“I’ve always loved how the alchemy of different performers and their processes, and different designers coming together, create a singular voice,” Harris said in a phone interview. “I always am interested as an actor in how I fit in a larger piece, rather than just being myopic, or my being a singularity.”

While casting has yet to be announced, Harris is the highest-profile entertainment figure to take the reins of one of the productions in the series, which began in 2018 with a revival of “Chess.” Since then, the program has offered new productions of popular Broadway fare including “The Music Man,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Guys and Dolls” and its most recent success, “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

“Spamalot,” directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes, has raised the stakes for the series: It’s the first of the revivals to transfer to Broadway, where it begins performances at the St. James Theatre on Oct. 31. Much of the Washington cast is returning, including Michael Urie, James Monroe Iglehart, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Nik Walker and Jimmy Smagula. Joining them on Broadway will be Ethan Slater and Christopher Fitzgerald, with the casting of one key role, Lancelot, still to be announced.

“Broadway Center Stage is always for D.C. audiences,” said Jeffrey Finn, who runs the series as the arts center’s vice president and executive producer of theater. “And when we are lucky to have this kind of moment, it’s a win-win, where we can have more audiences see the show.”

Broadway Center Stage has become the Kennedy Center’s de facto theatrical centerpiece, as it has pretty much abandoned producing its own plays and musicals. Other than young-adult shows and the three musical revivals a season it offers in souped-up concert incarnations, with costumes and some streamlined sets, theater at the center these days consists almost entirely of touring musicals.

Fortunately, the Center Stage productions have been of consistently high caliber, and attracting major collaborators such as Harris helps sustain the project’s creative energy. In addition to “Tick, Tick ... Boom!” (Jan. 26-Feb. 4), the 2023-24 season will include “Bye Bye Birdie” (June 6-16) and “Nine” (Aug. 2-11).

Staging “Tick, Tick ... Boom!,” which chronicles the trials of a struggling New York musical-theater composer named Jonathan, carries a bit more expectational baggage in the aftermath of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly praised 2022 Netflix version, starring Andrew Garfield. Finn says he knew he had to deliver a version for the stage that could stand theatrically apart.

“When I was thinking about who would deliver a new and exciting ‘Tick, Tick ... Boom!’ for 2024, I thought, who better than one of the most versatile and talented people in the industry?” Finn said. “Neil is someone, to me, who can break out, with an understanding and vision as to what he wants. And the Larson estate was very excited about the idea.”

Harris, 50, says he’s always felt an affinity for Larson and his work. In 2010, he directed a revival of “Rent” at the Hollywood Bowl, with Aaron Tveit, Vanessa Hudgens, Wayne Brady and Skylar Astin. For that short outdoor run in Los Angeles, he added eight extra voices and six musicians to the orchestra. “I appreciated the Larson estate letting us take a stab at a larger style,” he said.

“I really I would like to think that Jonathan and I would have gotten along if our paths had crossed in person,” added Harris, who’s had television success (“Doogie Howser, M.D.”; “How I Met Your Mother”) as well as satisfying Broadway experiences: revivals of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s “Assassins” (2004) and John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2014).

The actor-director said he has some ideas about what his new “Tick, Tick ... Boom!” will look like, and about the questions the musical addresses, regarding an artist’s choices between craft or commerce. “It’s the dream job,” he said of assuming the director’s chair. “And I do spend a lot of my time questioning what I should or shouldn’t be doing.”