Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical musical about a young composer trying to find success is given poignancy by Larson’s own death on the last day of rehearsals for his more famous show, Rent. In the smaller space at the Park Theatre, Tick, tick… Boom! is given a spirited and tuneful staging by director Bronagh Lagan and musical director Gareth Bretherton.
Lagan’s production rattles along, stuffed with so many songs that it feels as though the characters never have a thought that doesn’t become a whole number. The songs are lovely, though, especially a Sondheim-esque pisstake of the New York brunch crowd.
Chris Jenkins is our puppyish everyman, Jonathan, scraping by as a waiter while trying to write a rock musical and catch the eye of his idol, Sondheim. Jenkins makes you care about the whinging of a 29-year-old man with supportive parents, which is quite a feat. On the eve of his 30th birthday, Jon is considering his life to date, and whether his dreams are sustainable any longer. Of course, his girlfriend Susan (a sweet-voiced Gillian Saker), wants to leave New York and start a family, and Jon is torn between his creative dreams and his commitments.
Jordan Shaw is fantastic as Jon’s best friend, Michael, a would-be actor who now works in market research – and who has the spiffy suit and BMW to prove it. His voice is just gorgeous, he moves like a dream and, as the character with the biggest emotional journey in the piece, he is quietly moving. Shaw plays Michael as a man with his whole life before him, until the spectre of HIV clouds his future.
Saker is fun in a number of the smaller roles, especially amusing as Jon’s abrasive agent, but isn’t given much to work with – Susan exists in relation to Jon. She is there to nag and cajole and support, but we don’t get much of her personality. Saker also has a lovely voice, and shows impressive range across the evening. Jenkins gets better as the evening goes on, lending Jon a likeable, appealing quality.
Bretherton leads the music from behind the keyboard, with James Frankland, Mark Griffiths and Adam Sheffield making up the rest of the band. They make a cracking sound in a small space, and wring every ounce of energy from the varied score.
The staging is inventive, but frequently feels cramped in the small space. Some of the choreography gets worryingly close to the front row, and there are some serious sound issues despite the cast all wearing mics. With seating on three sides, you frequently have an actor’s back, and they then just can’t be heard. It’s a shame, because when it all comes together it’s a highly entertaining and extremely well-sung evening.
Tick, tick… Boom! is on at the Park Theatre until 27th May 2017. Click here for more details.