Jonathon Larson is perhaps musical theatre’s most tragic figure. A brilliant composer struck down in his prime, the day before the premiere of the musical that became a phenomenon. It’s difficult to speak about Larson without mentioning RENT, its iconic score and layered characters helped lead the way of the “rock musical”, but I often wonder if RENT would have been so popular had its talented young composer not tragically died from an unknown heart condition the night before its opening, sealing his place in musical theatre infamy. Yet, as the production states, before there was RENT, there was tick, tick…BOOM! a semi-autobiographical musical based on Larson’s struggle to have his work produced and be taken seriously in 1990s New York City.
Faced with the ongoing issues of poverty, romance and artistic integrity, the protagonist Jon is approaching his 30th birthday and contemplating “selling out” for a more comfortable life with his girlfriend Susan, and spurned on by his former roommate Michael’s recent shift from out-of-work-actor to corporate 9-5 life and all its financial benefits.
As a premise, it works, many people can empathise with the conflict of choosing stability over creativity, and of believing that the decision you make in this instant defines you for the rest of your life. (However, for anyone who’s seen Kinky Boots we know this is not true, “if you’re on the wrong road, turn back”).
But the narrative resonates with many, it’s a coming-of-age story, just a little later in life. Hugh Sheridan plays Jon and regardless of clear vocal exhaustion and/or illness pushed through with fierce determination. He is normally a stunning vocalist and I encourage anyone who hasn’t heard him sing when in full health to do so as soon as possible. In a weird way, the gravelly nature of his voice suited the character perfectly and his American accent was flawless. For the full one and a half hours, he never left the stage, powering through with energy and resilience.
Joined by Finn Alexander as his best friend Michael, the two have an easy friendship, it’s sincere and they work best in comedic moments. Susan is played by Elenoa Rokobaro, who gets one of the best songs, the hauntingly beautiful “Come to your Senses”, and takes on several ensemble roles alongside Sheridan Adams and Hamish Johnston.
It's a whirlwind hour and a half of Larsons’s trademark rock style musical numbers and themes that hit on the cultural zeitgeist of the 1990s. tick, tick…BOOM! shows the promise of what to come with RENT, and of Larson’s brilliance, but as an actual musical I don’t believe it was quite cooked and needed some more work before being produced worldwide (controversial I know, but I also feel this way about RENT).
tick, tick…BOOM! has a great narrative, some incredible songs and is easily recognizable to the struggling artists and bohemians of the audience. Alongside Sheridan and Alexander’s brilliantly comic moments and the wonderful “Louder than Words”. tick, tick…BOOM! may not have been the musical to wake up the generation, it’s still an enjoyable night at the theatre and oh so easy to like.
Storeyboard Entertainment presents
tick, tick... BOOM!
by Jonathon Larson
Director Tyran Parke
Venue: Comedy Theatre | 240 Exhibition Street Melbourne VIC
Dates: 1 – 12 February 2023
Brisbane 1 – 5 March 2023
Sydney 20 – 26 April 2023