Before there was the phenom that was Rent, Jonathan Larson wrote tick,tick… BOOM! in response to the failure of another of his works, Superbia. While tick,tick… BOOM! received a couple of workshop productions, ironically much like Superbia, the show was quickly eclipsed when Rent opened off-Broadway in 1996 and to Broadway itself that same year.
Autobiographical in nature, tick,tick… BOOM! follows Jonathan (Brandyn Eddy) in the week leading up to his 30th birthday and the workshop performance of Superbia. Along for the ride are his girlfriend Susan (Ashley Siddals) and his best friend Michael (Jeremy Lowe). Siddals and Lowe also play a variety of minor roles throughout the piece including both taking hilarious turns as Jonathan’s agent.
The parallels between tick,tick… BOOM! and Rent are understandably present and while not a complete surprise it did bring a smile as Larson talked about the keys being thrown from the window because the buzzer doesn’t work and the telephone calls with his parents. Even the music, to some degree, elicited images of Rent although the lyrics fell well short of its more famous cousin.
And that is where the biggest problem with tick,tick… BOOM! lies – in the lyrics and the story. One couldn’t help but feel Larson was being completely self-indulgent in this slice-of-life piece and while I don’t have any issues with this type of very narrow focus it did seem to come across as little more than a cathartic response to Larson’s failure, with nothing of real substance to say to its audience.
With few exceptions there are really no songs that standout, especially when compared to what Larson was able to accomplish with Rent a few years later. And while musically the show has some merit, the lyrics, much like the story itself, tended to be sophomoric.
Interestingly, tick,tick… BOOM! was written by Larson as a one-man show and its current version didn’t materialize until several years later and adapted into this 80 minute, three-person version. And this re-write is probably a good thing given the show was at its best in the numbers featuring all three cast members.
Brandyn Eddy does a decent job as Jonathan although the chemistry between both Siddals’ Susan and Lowe’s Michael is simply not felt by the audience. Lowe’s larger-than-life acting style simply didn’t work in this smaller venue and tended towards distraction. We were also slightly disappointed in Eddy’s inability to actually play the keyboards in the show.
The cast is accompanied on stage (on scaffolding) by a five piece band. At times you could see Musical Director Melissa Braun (or was that Sarah Jaysmith) madly trying to keep the band together and in tempo. Rock musicals like this really must get the sound right; unfortunately it was a problem last night with the cast being overpowered by the band on a number of occasions.
In the end, while tick,tick… BOOM! is a self-indulgent and inferior musical, it does give us a glimpse into the development of the characters and ideas that was eventually to became Rent which, probably not coincidentally, Fighting Chance Productions is mounting in August.
tick,tick… BOOM! continues at the Jericho Arts Centre through April 22nd (Mondays to Wednesdays ) only. Tickets are available at the door or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Fighting Chance Productions through their Facebook page.