Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Review tick, tick ... BOOM!

tick, tick ... BOOM!
Book, Music And Lyrics by Jonathan Larson

The Next Big (Fat-Free But Tasty) Musical

What, reviewing the late Jonathan Larson's early musical when one hasn't even seen Rent, his celebrated riff on La Bohème? TLT and the engine beneath her wings feel they should come clean but, on the other hand, they come to Tick, Tick ... Boom! with a clean slate and ready to be entertained.

Tick, Tick ... Boom! appears to be an apprentice musical in more ways than one. Larson, who was also an actor, performed it as a solo rock show from 1990.  It slides, deliberately we think, from beginner's promise but structural clunkiness into something more sophisticated as the song styles and book grow in complexity.

It's highly autobiographical - the central character is a struggling aspiring songwriter called Jon who, like Larson, waits on tables while he awaits his big break. He is turning from 29 to the big 3-Oh (that's oh-oh!). His dance teacher girlfriend Susan aches to break away from tutoring weathy little 'uns for her own big break. But she also longs for the stability of marriage and suburban life.

That's not to be confused with Jon's (and Larson's) first attempt at a musical, the unfinished scifi Superbia, one song of which, Come To Your Senses, David Auburn, who revised Tick, Tick ... Boom!, incorporated into the later show.

Auburn turned Tick, Tick... Boom!, after Larson's premature death, from a solo musical monologue to a revamped chamber musical three-hander, its present form.

Jon (Chris Jenkins from The Burnt Part Boys) spends his time working in a diner, smoking joints on the rooftop of his Soho apartment in between working on his musical.

However spiritually he agonizes as his birthday approaches and his dreams of a produced musical remain unfulfilled.

He is still close to Michael (Jordan Shaw) with whom he grew up and went to summer camp. Michael though has long abandoned his own dream to become an actor to chase the mighty dollar in a Madison Avenue advertising firm, gain a coveted swish car (hey, what's wrong with that?, demands TLT's automotive sidekick indignantly!) and a luxury pad.

Director Bronagh Lagan's production takes a little while to setttle down with a few technical  hiccups - Jordan Shaw gives the most consistent performance from start to finish but all the cast come good with eventually outstanding performances from Jenkins and Saker.

The song most often picked out from this youthful work is the diner parody Sunday of Jon and Larson's real-life mentor Stevie's Sunday from Sunday In The Park With George where the order of Art (with a capital A)  becomes an order of an omelette with no yolks, "That why you're a wait-er!".

That's Stevie as in Stephen Sondheim, not Stevie as in Stevia the sugar-free substitute. A sugar-free substitute being the product at the centre of a doomed advertising industry opportunity which Michael sets up for his friend

But the song we loved was the fast-paced psychobabble of the phone call song with a Country & Western twang, Therapy, yet is there also a touch of old style classic musicals and Sesame Street?

Nik Cottall's excellent versatile set goes a long way to giving the production an atmospheric shape, changing seamlessly from apartment to rooftop to diner to office space and even workshop area.. Ben M Rogers' matches him with (pardon the pun!) spot on lighting which also clearly defines the locations of the various scenes but also adds emotional depth when needed. 

Musical director Gareth Bretherton on keyboards is seen through a gauze screen while the three other members of the band on guitar, bass and drums are up above on the balcony. At one point they also  become participants in the Madison Avenue brainstorming parliament - even those musicians perched above away with the birds! 

This is one of those fascinating evenings where non-cognoscenti like TLT and her motorised chariot (and nearing the end of this review, we still haven't seen Rent!) can appreciate some of the technical processes of a developing musical theatre writer without their eyes glazing over.

Because we also pride ourselves that in terms of musical theatre, we're the ordinary punters with unlearned opinions who nevertheless can google and gather knowledge, we know now that Jonathan Larson sadly died as a result of  undiagnosed Marfan Syndrome.

Despite a few technical glitches and Philip Michael Thomas's choreography feeling a little squeezed into the space, the whole experience, whether with or without the woeful background, was a green light from us - oh, and we look forward to catching Rent if not on the current tour then in a future incarnation!

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