Theatre Review || Tick...Tick...Boom! || Encore Performing Arts
“Ok, I’m ready…”
"Tick..Tick…Boom!" Is not a musical I was massively familiar with until recently. I had heard the soundtrack back in my university days, but it wasn’t until the success of the recent film adaptation that I really paid any attention. It also is not a show you see performed often, so last night’s visit to watch this production by Encore Performing Arts was my first time seeing this show live.
"Tick..Tick…Boom!" is the lesser-known, semi-autobiographical work by Jonathan Larson, perhaps more famously known for writing the hit musical “Rent”. While Larson’s tragic early death and his lasting musical legacy are definitely worthy of a show all by themselves, this story focuses on the time before Larson was famous, as he struggled for his big break. The story takes place against a backdrop of 90’s New York and the rising HIV/AIDs crisis.
From the very start of this production it was clear that it was a show with a vision; a vision which was executed brilliantly by director Matt Powell. The set was minimal, but effective, featuring a piano and four flight cases which were moved around by the cast to demonstrate each scene change. (Flight cases are the boxes often used in touring gigs to transport equipment, if like me you’d not heard that term until today)
The show began with members of the company already on stage, milling around as if they were setting up for a performance. It was an engaging and immersive start to what would be a captivating and emotional performance.
The lighting for the show (designed by David Price) really helped to build atmosphere and the use of projections on the back of the stage, especially the recurring countdown from 90 to 0, moved the story along and emphasised Jon’s sense of time ticking away.
Having never seen this show live before, I really have no basis for comparison, however do I know that it is usually performed with just three actors. For this production, the cast was expanded to 12. I think this was a really clever decision, as the larger cast gave more flexibility in how the characters interacted and also provided depth to the scenes in a way that would have been missing with a small cast.
Andrew Bould had the monumental task of holding the show together in the lead role of Jon. Andrew fully embodied the character of Jon from the moment he stood on stage, so much so that at times during his monologues I forgot that these weren’t really his words. He particularly shone during his musical numbers (and there were a lot of them!) His vocal performance was strong, full of character and paid a fitting tribute to Larson’s mesmerising music.
Paolo Elias also gave a gripping performance as Michael, Jon’s best friend who faces battles all of his own. Paolo gave another incredibly strong vocal performance, especially in his moving number “Real Life”. The chemistry between Jon and Michael was easily believable and their relationship provided some of the comedy and emotional highlights of the show.
Solid performances really were the theme of the evening, and the next one came from Danielle Hall in the role of Jon’s girlfriend, Susan. Danielle really captured Susan’s struggles to be supportive of Jon’s ambitions while still trying to follow her own dreams.
I was especially impressed with how much emotion she could convey even when she wasn’t at the forefront of the action. I would often spot her standing at the side of the stage, watching Jon’s actions, and I could feel Susan’s emotion and disappointment from across the room. Her singing voice was clear and strong and showcased perfectly in each musical number.
Lizzie Fenner played the role of Karessa, an actor performing in Jon’s musical workshop. I really enjoyed the energy and vivacity that Lizzie brought to the role, instantly grabbing the audience’s attention. Lizzie is another fabulous vocalist and she sounded incredible in all of Karessa’s songs, but most especially in the beautiful “Come to your senses”, the moving duet with Susan.
Special mention has to go to Cat Tuckey who featured as Jon’s agent, Rosa. She didn’t have many lines, but she made every single moment count. Her wry and sardonic comments had me in stitches every time she was on stage.
As I mentioned earlier, the cast was expanded to include an ensemble, all of whom took on a variety of roles and really helped to flesh out the world of "Tick...Tick...Boom!". They were put to great use in group scenes like the diner scene (“Sunday”), during the market research session and when demonstrating the different theatres of Broadway.
Although there was a small amount of dance choreography in some of the group numbers, I personally found it more effective and in keeping with the tone of the show when the cast performed minimal choreographed movement. A particularly good example of this was the song “Therapy”, where Jon and Susan sing about their relationship issues, while the cast become a visible representation of the rising tensions between the pair.
The music of Jonathan Larson is undeniably the star of the show here, and musical director AJ Hill did a tremendous job of bringing that music to life, as well as incorporating all of those extra voices. The band, made up of four musicians at the back of the stage, created a beautiful rock sound, although occasionally the sound balance was a little off which made it hard to hear some of the vocal solos.
"Tick..Tick…Boom!" was a tribute to the hard work and talent of everyone involved. The cast and crew brought this incredible story to life, simultaneously entertaining and challenging the audience. There was a wonderful blend of emotion and comedy, all tied together with this stunning score. Even knowing how the story ended, I found myself with a lump in my throat as the curtain (metaphorically) came down.
T"ick..Tick…Boom!" is running at The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton until Saturday 6th May. With such an innovative and moving production, I highly recommend you get down there to see it if you can. Tickets are available on the website - https://www.duchess-theatre.com/whats-on