Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Director: Guy Retallack
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Before Rent there was Tick, Tick…Boom, and in some ways they share the same story. Rent examined the lives of a group of New Yorkers battling the AIDS crisis of the early 1990s whereas in Jonathan Larson’s earlier work the AIDS epidemic is stirring in the background, ready to explode like a bomb going, tick, tick…boom!
The production at Penge’s Bridge House Theatre is imaginative, but can’t quite fix the problems with the self-regard of the main character. Jon writes musical theatre, but he is still waiting tables on the eve of his 30th birthday. His relationship with his girlfriend is on the rocks and his best friend and roommate has become withdrawn. Will the public workshop of his new rock music Superbia give him the break he needs?
There’s little more to the plot, but quite enough for a 90-minute musical for three actors, and the three actors here give it their all. As Jon, Alex Lodge is on fine form and in good voice, bringing the young American to life. His acting, and his accent are faultless, as are those by Georgie Ashford and James Hume, and the first number 30/90 is performed well by the three of them.
However, 30/90 is the best song of the whole show and so unfortunately the excitement of the early minutes is never repeated. There are solos, and duets but the songs they sing all together are the most successful, such as Johnny Can’t Decide and Sugar. Not every song is there to drive the story forward and a few, such as See Her Smile and Louder Than Words, don’t quite fit into the narrative.
The stage, with seating on two sides, is small, but Natalie Johnson’s set is unfussy and Paul Harris, as movement director, makes the space seem even bigger. For such an unassuming theatre, the lights are impressive, and Richard Williamson uses them well. And somewhere off stage is the musician Jamie Ross who plays keyboards and guitar. Overall, it’s a slick evening.
Larsen died in 1996 at the age of 35, and both Rent and Tick, Tick…Boom! have a cult following, but the former has the better songs and the more engaging story. Tick, Tick…Boom! will always be a minor work in comparison. But The Bridge House bring some life to it, and it certainly ticks along nicely.
Runs until 27 October 2019