Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 20 – 26, 2023
Book: Jonathan Larson
Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Music: Jonathan Larson
Director: Tyran Parke
Cast: Sheridan Adams, Finn Alexander, Hamish Johnston, Elenoa Rokobaro, Hugh Sheridan
Images by Jeff Busby
Jon’s thirtieth birthday is fast approaching, and his anxiety is on overdrive. An artist living and working in New York, his career has yet to take off, even though everyone seems to heap praise on his song writing. Tick, Tick… Boom! is a semi-autobiographical work by Jonathan Larson, first performed in 1990, just six years before his untimely death, at the very young age of 35. Larson’s greatest success finally came with the musical Rent, but he never saw the warm reception of opening night, having passed away just the day before its first preview.
Tick, Tick… Boom! was never conceived for large venues. This staging, directed by Tyran Parke, is based on an adaptation by David Auburn that expanded the work from Larson’s original solo format, and its current iteration in a 2,000 seater auditorium, demonstrates unfavourably the intimate nature of the musical. The drama never grips, and the songs rarely soar. We feel energies dissipating long before they reach us, from a stage that often looks too subdued, and too far away.
Christina Smith’s scenic design encloses the action on the centre third of the proscenium, which helps to concentrate focus, but which also restricts movement, in a way that makes the show look monotonous. Lights by Matt Scott, although adept at providing appropriate illumination, does not deliver much more than its essential functions. Musical direction by Kohan van Sambeeck, while able to imbue some intensity to the plot, is let down by sound engineering that keeps the band distant, and much of their efforts withdrawn and contained within the stage area.
Leading man Hugh Sheridan, while not lacking in verve, has a voice that is excessively raspy and strained, unable to allow his audience to connect with the songs, and therefore losing the essence and soul of his character Jon. Performer Elenoa Rokobaro is the saving grace of the production, confident and delightful in all of her roles, especially memorable in her showstopping tune, “Come to Your Senses”, taking the opportunity very late in the piece, to remind us of the magic, that theatre is capable of.
Artists do not create work in vacuums. It is fundamental to any art practice, that communication between creator and audience is a matter of consideration, but there always comes a point where one can care too much. Jon cares too much, about what people think, not only in relation to his work as a writer of songs and musicals, but also as a man struggling in a contemporary epoch, defined by envy and competition. It is a shame that we have manufactured a world, in which few artists are able to be content simply with the joy of creation, where most are made to involve themselves with an endless barrage of peripheral interferences, that fuel professional jealousy and gratuitous aspiration. Jon is good at what he loves, but it is a real shame that everywhere he seeks affirmation, seems to make him think, that he is not enough.