One for the fans, tick, tick…BOOM! is given a simple yet creative production that deservedly honours the spirit and talent of Broadway composer Jonathan Larson.
tick, tick…BOOM! returns the audience to a far distant 1990, when franchised British musicals dominated Broadway and artistic communities could still manage to survive in Manhattan. Before the extraordinary success of 1996 musical Rent, a success he was never to see, lead character and narrator Jon struggles to compose high concept sci-fi musical Superbia while moonlighting at the Moondance Diner.
Originally written by Larson as a self-performed solo work, tick, tick…BOOM! was eventually brought to the stage with an expansion to three players. Touching on the theme of selling out, and including the spectre of HIV along with the presence of answering machines and remote suburban parents, devotees will appreciate the aspects of Larson’s life that went on to be featured in Rent.
While the threat of AIDS over his chosen family of friends surely contributed to Larson’s concept for the title of this show, the fact that he died suddenly of an aortic dissection (on the day of the first off-Broadway preview of Rent) adds true poignancy to the title in retrospect.
One slight difficulty in this season is that Melbourne does not really have a equivalent concept to “off-Broadway.” While the Comedy Theatre is clearly the most suited of the city theatres for tick, tick…BOOM!, the house has nonetheless recently hosted Come From Away and Jagged Little Pill, giving the audience something of an associated expectation that is not met in a small show like this. Even with an enlarged cast of five, the single-set production is quite basic, and the audience appears to take some time to come around to what is on offer.
With musical references including reverential nods to our beloved Stephen Sondheim, director Tyran Parke is the perfect conduit to mine the text and score for artistic lifeblood. While the struggles of Jon, his best friend Michael, and girlfriend Susan could be dismissed under the modern lens of privilege, Jon’s pursuit of his musical dreams ultimately conveys a vulnerability and nobility that are tenderly affecting.
On keyboard, musical director Kohan van Sambeck leads four fellow musicians in bringing the variegated flavours of Larson’s light rock score to life. Affectionate Sondheim homage “Sunday” brings knowing laughs of enjoyment, and “No More” brings the strongest aural connection to Rent.
Collaborating with characteristic flair, set designer Christina Smith and lighting designer Matt Scott frame the action in towering brick walls upon which giant shadows and vibrant city lights are cast.
Hugh Sheridan plays against type as twitchy, nervy New Yorker Jon, immersing themself in the awkward stance and tone of the man. Barely off stage for the 90-minute running time, Sheridan works hard in a role that is focused on anxious tension and introspection rather traditional leading man charm or presence. Although their singing voice is not up to the full set of demands of the score, Sheridan nonetheless engages effectively with the audience and has a ready rapport wth their cast mates.
Elena Rokobaro gives a strong performance as Susan, conveying the young woman’s insecurity and restless yearning in neatly understated manner. Rokobaro soars in gorgeous hit ballad “Come to your Senses,” a number that Parke rightly stages with absolute simplicity.
Finn Alexander deftly maintains an undercurrent of unlikability about Michael. The eventual reveal that explains his recent distance from lifelong best friend Jon lands with real weight thanks to the well crafted arc of Alexander’s performance.
Sheridan Adams and Hamish Johnston humbly give selfless support, boosting vocals, playing brief cameo roles, and otherwise moving set pieces with well rehearsed polish.
Returning to the same theatre where Rent played its premiere Melbourne season almost 24 years ago, tick, tick…BOOM! is a chance for lovers of Larson to reflect upon the legacy of his all too short life.
tick, tick…BOOM! plays at Comedy Theatre, Melbourne until 12 February 2023. For tickets, click here.
tick, tick…BOOM! plays at QPAC Playhouse, Brisbane 1-5 March 2023. For tickets, click here.
tick, tick…BOOM! plays at Sydney Lyric Theatre 20-26 April 2023. For tickets, click here.
Photos: Jeff Busby
Categories: Music Theatre, Reviews
Not one that’s on my bucket list Simon but your comment makes an excellent point :
“One slight difficulty in this season is that Melbourne does not really have a equivalent concept to “off-Broadway.” While the Comedy Theatre is clearly the most suited of the city theatres for tick, tick…BOOM!, the house has nonetheless recently hosted Come From Away and Jagged Little Pill, giving the audience something of an associated expectation that is not met in a small show like this. Even with an enlarged cast of five, the single-set production is quite basic, and the audience appears to take some time to come around to what is on offer. ”
I have always felt that some shows ‘sit’ better depending on the venue. e.g Titanic.
I think in Australia maybe our ‘off Broadway’ is within our amateur companies although they rarely present new material. Mind you ….I have seen some of the mega-musicals transition to amateur stages with great success, a tribute in a way to the core strength of the original material.
Anxiously waiting for an amateur company to tackle Billie Elliot ?
Thanks for this feedback, Edward.
I had not even thought about the fact that Billy Elliot us yet to have an amateur production here yet. Tricky to cast but I’m sure it can be done!
I would actually say that our “off-Broadway” is independent productions, such as the type we see here at Chapel off Chapel.
tick, tick…BOOM! was already done there, and worked very well.
The thing is that productions like this are not on the radar of a great many local theatregoers.
I guess Sydney the Hayes Theatre, which is always growing its reputation. tick, tick…BOOM would most likely work well there. Unfortunately, it is going be lost in the Sydney Lyric Theatre.
Sheridan was clearly unwell tonight and almost losing their voice (apparently not for the first time). I wonder if a Swing performance would’ve actually been better than having to hear them struggle through it. I don’t mean that as harsh criticism, but as the best bang for our Comedy Theatre sized buck.
That’s a fair comment, Nathan. I have the sense Sheridan feels committed to being there to perform the role, but the long term health of their voice should ultimately be more important.
I remember a comment Elaine Paige made amidst the emergence of potential ‘stars’ from the reality tv circus a few years ago : …..”but can they do eight shows a week ?”. Probably not…. as even the most accomplished of musical theatre performers has found that they often need the strength and stamina of an Olympian to sustain vocality and energy. This requires a strict regime of fitness, healthy eating and rest with a minimum of distraction from press junkets and the Socials that may affect confidence and mental stability.
Elaine Paige’s comment seems rather apt in this case