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tick, tick…Boom! at the Bridge House Theatre | Review

tick, tick...Boom!- Photo by Jamie Scott-SmithAs you know, time flies, and at the time of writing, anyone who, like Jon (a hugely likeable Alex Lodge) turned thirty in 1990 will soon be eligible for various concessions too numerous to bother listing here. The comparison is often made between tick, tick… BOOM! and Rent – although the storylines are markedly different (and more complex in the latter), they were written by the same lyricist and composer, Jonathan Larson (1960-1996), and the former is an autobiographical work. Such is the prevailing interest in tick, tick… BOOM! that a film adaptation is in the works.

The sound you are hearing is not a technical problem. It is not a musical cue. It is not a joke. It is the sound of one man’s mounting anxiety. I am that man.” So the narrative begins, with a loud ticking noise – Jon’s girlfriend, Susan (Georgie Ashford) is a dancer and ballet teacher, while Michael (James Hume), a good friend of Jon since they were at school together, is now a high-flying business executive. Jon, meanwhile, is still waiting for his big break, and the stark reality for many budding musical theatre composers is laid bare in his frustrations with, for instance, his agent who doesn’t return his calls. When, at long last, there’s finally a chance for a musical he’s written to possibly be picked up by theatre producers, let’s just say things don’t pan out the way Jon would have liked.

Yes, it’s drama about drama. But all the cast’s voices are in fine form throughout, and it’s always good to see people palpably enjoying themselves on stage. While this show is starting to become a period piece with the passing years, the final musical number, ‘Louder Than Words’, asks questions that are strangely, spookily even, more pertinent now than ever. “Why do we follow leaders who never lead? Why does it take catastrophe to start a revolution? If we’re so free, tell me why… so many people bleed?

The staging is as good as it can be in the small performance space, but then there always is a roughness and edginess that comes with this show, which makes this production more remarkable with a cast with such stellar credits between them. It’s polished enough for every musical number to shine, while maintaining a certain bite that comes with a ‘warts and all’ portrayal of these characters’ live. ‘Sunday’, about the kind of snobbish patrons in the diner where Jon does shifts that your reviewer finds as repulsive as he does, is just one of many homages to Stephen Sondheim. The highlight, though, is ‘Come To Your Senses’, which Ashford glides through seemingly effortlessly.

I had to smile at being told before the house opened that the show is ‘approximately 97 minutes long’, though that sort of detail does well with the ‘every minute counts’ nature of life in a busy metropolis like New York City – no wonder, then, that Susan has thoughts of being elsewhere. In the context of Larson’s sudden passing back in 1996, this enthusiastic and energetic revival is an encouraging reminder to live life to the full, and not to give up too easily on one’s dreams and ambitions.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Before there was Rent, there was tick, tick…Boom! This autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning composer of Rent, is the story of the composer on the brink of turning 30, his fear of falling into oblivion, and the sacrifices he made to achieve his big break in the theatre. Jon’s girlfriend wants to get married and move out of the city, his best friend is making big bucks on Madison Avenue and yet Jon is still waiting on tables and trying to write the great American musical. Audiences will love this youthful, endearing and thoughtful piece that embraces the universal ideal of holding onto your dreams through life’s most difficult challenges. Set in 1990, tick, tick…Boom! is a compelling story of personal discovery presented as a rock musical that takes you on the playwright/composer’s journey which led to a Broadway blockbuster.

Georgie Ashford (Susan)
James Hume (Michael)
Alex Lodge (Jon)

Listing Information:
tick, tick…Boom!
by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Guy Retallack,
The Bridge House Theatre SE20
2 High Street,
Penge, London, SE20 8RZ

Tuesday 30th September – Sunday 27th October 2019


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