Review: tick, tick…BOOM!

tick…tick…tick… this is the sound of one man’s mounting anxiety…his girlfriend wants to get married and move out of the city (tick,) his best friend is making big bucks on Madison Avenue (tick…) yet Jon is still waiting on tables and trying to write the great American musical (BOOM!). tick, tick…Boom! is the autobiographical musical of Pulitzer and Tony-award winning RENT composer, Jonathan Larson. tick, tick…BOOM! tells the story of Jon, an aspiring composer who lives in New York City. He is nearing his thirtieth birthday and is worried that he has made the wrong career choice. Larson began performing the piece as a solo work in 1990 but following his death in 1996, it was revised by playwright David Auburn as a three-actor piece and premiered in 2001.

As an autobiographical piece, the writing could not be more passionate, more feeling or believed. As the central character Jon, Ashley Campbell lacked connection with this. Careful thought and constant understanding was needed to communicate the emotional battle he is experiencing but the emotion felt detached, switched on and off as needed. Ashley attacked the songs but fell short in some respects, least forgiven when forgetting the words in the occasional place. Adam Rhys-Davies as Michael was unfortunately forgettable; he delivered an edge to his character but needed control and development later in the piece. Leanne Jones as Susan was the light within the darkness and although not the central character, pulled the cast along. Her character was delivered naturally and her solo number “Come to Your Senses” was almost the showstopper it should have been had it felt a little more secure.

The play is in many ways almost a parody. There is a similarity in the plot to the musical Company, links to West Side Story in the lyrics and scoring of the song “Why”, as well as musical number “Sunday” a humorous homage to “Sunday in the Park with George”, all links to Stephen Sondheim, one of Larson’s professed biggest influences. The humour within the writing is brilliant but was directed a little unimaginatively and over-hammed, with the alternate cameo characters thrown away. The direction over-all felt a little lumpy within what is a difficult and unforgiving space and the character relationships did not feel developed.

The set design was a little awkward, although simple it almost felt over-complicated and difficult, with the direction not working to its strengths. This lacked detail and although the small reveal at the end was nice, it felt a little too late. The lighting design was similarly undeveloped and a little slow. Music, directed and performed by Richard Bates, lacked certainty and would have benefited from more than just a piano to deliver the strong sense of rhythm set by the ticking of Jon’s mounting anxiety and to best support the rock style.

With a stellar cast in Ashley Campbell and Leanne Jones I can be forgiven for expecting more. The piece felt under-done and lacked passion and detail. I am sure the cast and team have experienced a wonderful journey in developing this piece, as is the magic of Larson’s work and this is an achievement. However, unfortunately the only ticking in the show was that of my watch…

tick, tick…fizzle runs until 5th June 2010 at The Union Theatre, Southwark.

Written on behalf of The Public Reviews

Copyright © The Public Reviews & theatreJunki 2010.

One Response to “Review: tick, tick…BOOM!”
  1. Oi. *sigh*

    And I was quite looking forward to this next week. I will still go to see it and hopefully muster the will to blog about it after.

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