Tick…Tick…Boom! is a show created by Jonathan Larson (of RENT fame) centred around a promising musical theatre writer ‘Jon’, who is running out of time. Will he write the next Hair? Will he lose his girlfriend? Will Stephen Sondheim like his work? Will he actually do any writing at any point? Do we care? I didn’t – and the fact that even I felt alienated, ‘starving artist’ that I am, reveals the extent to which Tick…Tick…Boom! fails as a show.
A major problem for me is the sheer egoism of Larson as a writer in this case. He’s written a largely autobiographical musical whose central character has the same name, and used this to act out a wish-fulfilment fantasy about gaining admiration from Sondheim. Tick…Tick…Boom! feels like a boyish fan letter to the great master, or worse a shrine to the god of music and lyrics made of cuttings from Company and Sunday in the Park with George. Although the ‘Sunday’ parody song is quite funny, other references (blowing out candles, Cape Cod, reference to his 35th birthday) are downright crass. Larson’s own music and lyrics just aren’t good enough to survive the comparison.
The weight of Larson’s (sorry, ‘Jon’s’) character fell on the shoulders of Tony James-Andersson, who got lumped with the wordy narration and extended monologues. Barely leaving the stage and talking almost constantly, James-Andersson’s stamina was certainly tested. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to keep us engaged for the whole 90 minutes, and rarely gave us the energy required to keep this show moving. Despite some excellent rock vocals, his songs missed the nervous anticipation inherent in the concept and didn’t let us like him enough to care about his situation. Helping out were JJ Criss and Natalie Viccars who played a host of other characters. They developed each one into coherent and striking people you genuinely cared about, and generated some much needed forward-momentum.
Tick...Tick…Boom! gets performed on the back of RENT’s success. I don’t think it’s fair to Larson’s memory to dig up this lesser work for want of a RENT spin-off. It’s interesting to see how this earlier piece feeds into the sound and style of his Magnum Opus, but beyond that curiosity this musical lacks the ability to validate itself on its own terms.