Thrust onto a gold-plated pedestal for his’ La Bohème’-based rock musical ‘Rent’, Jonathan Larson’s tragically early death could have left him a one-hit-wonder, joining the ranks of Meredith Wilson’s ‘The Music Man’, Burt Bacharach’s ‘Promises, Promises’ and Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver!’. With its genesis as a one-man rock-monologue, it wasn’t until a posthumous restructuring to a three-person chamber musical that ‘Tick, tick… BOOM!’ began to find a wider audience after its Off-Broadway premiere in 2001. THAT Production Company in association with Beenleigh Theatre Company demonstrated with aplomb why this niche rock-musical is arguably better than Rent, with more soul and substance.
‘Tick, tick… BOOM!’, an autobiographical musical may have been written in a different century, but the themes of love, loss, frustration, perseverance and the trials and tribulations of following your dreams, all ring true in today’s world. Reminiscent of fellow musical theatre composer William Finn, who also found solace in writing auto- and semi-autobiographical works, ‘Tick, tick… BOOM!’ is a complex show full of layers. Much like a Disney movie where jokes are regularly aimed at the adults as opposed to the children, Larson’s lyrics and book regularly reach out to fellow musicians and composers, adding an enjoyable second layer of humour, adding to the overall charm of the show.
Director and designer Timothy Wynn managed to create a stunningly cohesive world on stage, where the narrative was clearly defined and transitions were generally swift and seamless. Every character (and there were many) felt grounded and purposeful, with the show’s dry humour never feeling forced or unnatural. The barren stage, simply housing 6 collapsable chairs and occasionally a keyboard, was simple but ensured the show didn’t lose its grittiness with the use of overly-elaborate set pieces or unnecessarily-complicated transitions. Blocking was incredibly simple yet extremely effective, the cast using the subtly-painted black square on the floor as a boundary in which to create their magic, anything outside of this zone feeling timeless and locationless.
Towards the back of the stage, a long black curtain housed Lachlan Van Der Kreek’s vibrant projections; simple images carefully curated to tie in with Wynn’s overall feel for the show. Subtly moving from night to day, Vision Designer Van Der Kreek’s projections never felt clunky or generic, but successfully enhanced the action on stage.
‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ was clearly a show full of professionalism from start to finish. This being said, the show initially suffered from small pacing issues. It’s hard to say if the fault is with Larson’s initial somewhat-clunky script, David Auburn’s reworking, or just opening night jitters, but these minor issues subsided after the first few numbers.
No stranger to the Brisbane professional stage, Musical Direction by Luke Volker was classy and engaging. He led the small four-piece orchestra ably, creating an extremely tight and dynamic base on which the vocals could sit. The balance between all four musicians was crafted perfectly by Ben Murray, whose sound design throughout the show was classy and wonderfully levelled. Additional speakers installed on stage created a greater sense of aural depth, with the use of panning and localised sound placement heightening the overall experience.
Individually, vocals from all three actors were sublime, craftily sculpted by a very experienced Musical Director, with performers truly at the top of their game. This being said, when theatre is created at this impressive calibre, it was unfortunate that some of the three-part harmonies didn’t quite settle during ‘Louder Than Words’ and ‘Sugar’. This definitely did not detract from the overall enjoyment, but serves as a reminder that even the most seasoned of singers can find harmonies difficult, garnering hope for the most eager of community theatre performers!
Leading this trio of triple threats was Matilda Award nominee, Jackson McGovern, portraying the show’s protagonist Jon – modelled after the composer’s own life. McGovern encompassed the character’s neuroses with expertise and quick-witted humour, with an obviously honed comic-timing. Having said that, it was McGovern’s lengthy, almost Shakespearian soliloquies that were his most captivating moments to watch, his inner-struggles and tumultuous decisions portrayed with a maturity well beyond his years. Vocally, McGovern’s slightly-nasal pop timbre was perfectly suited to the role, his flatter vowel sounds creating the more rocky, uptempo-feel that the show required. Yet, it was his softer, more emotionally charged number ‘Why’ that was one of the show’s true highlights, showcasing his beautiful vibrato and emotional range in the most simple of ways: a blank stage and a man with his piano.
Playing Susan (amongst others) was Stephanie Long, a seasoned performer with a very bright future ahead of her. With a crystalline tone to her voice, Long was able to switch between all the different vocal-styles required with ease. Her portrayal of Jon’s Dad (yes, his Dad) was of particular note, creating a character that wasn’t too over-the-top to be unbelievable, but slapstick enough to be humorous. As Jon’s frustrated-with-New-York girlfriend, Susan, the subtle nuances of their relationship were beautiful to watch on stage. This coupling was particularly lovely to watch, especially during ‘Green, Green Dress’, where their comradery was so natural and their connection so real.
Vocally, it was as actress Karessa, the show within the show’s leading lady, that Long truly shined. With a clever set shift creating the feel of a seedy New York workshop basement theatre, Long’s vocals during Superbia’s ‘Come to Your Senses’ were sublime and garnered goosebumps, her belt powerful yet controlled.
As Jon’s long-suffering roommate, confidant and life-long friend, Josh Whitten’s portrayal of gay-best-friend Michael was titillatingly camp, yet refreshingly honest. With a fully fleshed-out backstory, Whitten gave heart to a potentially frivolous character and his vocals were controlled and classy throughout. His interactions with Jon always felt genuine and reciprocative, but it was the lighter, more fun moments that were highlights. ‘No More’, with its Beyoncé-inspired choreography (by Peter Wood) was laugh out loud funny, their excitement exuding on stage like a couple of giddy teenagers.
Playing a variety of other characters, it was Whitten’s performance as Rosa Stevens, Jon’s stereotypical pushy Jewish-agent that hit all the right notes – always finding the humour, and never afraid to use space and silence it to his advantage. It was an amazing amalgamation of Lois Griffin, Fran Drescher and Janice Hoserstein (of Friends fame), and the audience loved every second of the melodrama.
Stage Management by Chloe Dunn was precise, prompt and professional. Leading a small team, scene transitions were generally smooth and quick, although it would be beneficial to find a way to increase the speed of the transition to the live keyboard, as this longer blackout stunted the show’s overall flow. This being said, the show ran extremely smoothly and effortlessly, which is a testament to the hard-working team.
Daniel Anderson’s lighting design was engaging from start to finish. A true professional in his field, his designs were dynamic and bold, managing to create a plethora of moods, locations, and emotions. With a penchant for moving head lights, Anderson’s designs successfully created a wonderful sense of movement and allowed for effective zoning on the stage, permitting the Crete Street Auditorium to feel both huge and small at the same time. Adding additional lights in the wings aren’t usually part of Beenleigh Theatre Group’s arsenal, as removing entrances and exits is usually too cumbersome for large-cast shows, but with such a small cast, Anderson’s additional lighting created wonderful effects that gave the show a slightly edgier feel – especially when faces were only lit from the side, giving a more NYC grungy vibe.
The first production as part of Beenleigh Theatre Group’s new initiative – ‘Crete Street Fringe’ – THAT Production Company have set an extremely high bar for BTG’s new venture. Showcasing how versatile and unrestrictive the Crete Street Theatre can be when you fill it with young, fresh, and talented professionals at the top of their game, ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ was a fantastic night of theatre, tick, tick… booming all of the right boxes!
‘Tick, tick… BOOM!’ plays until Saturday 14th March as part of Beenleigh Theatre Group’s ‘Crete Street Fringe’ Festival. Head to www.thatproductioncompany.com.au for tickets.
In the interest of transparency, this reviewer created the poster and programme for this production. The team decided that this small involvement was far enough removed to eradicate bias and are confident that this review is a clear and accurate representation of the overall feel of the production.
This article was edited by Shane Webb.