Pulitzer and Tony Award winning composer Jonathan Larson is known the world over for his magnum opus Rent, but the struggle he endured to write his masterpiece is less well-known. His autobiographical Tick, Tick…Boom! Shows a snapshot in his life, just six years before he died, when everything he worked for hung in the balance, and the world could have missed out on that iconic musical.
Larson originally wrote and performed Tick, Tick…Boom! as a rock monologue, following his death it was reconfigured for a cast of three and this is the version, directed by Bronagh Lagan, currently playing at The Park Theatre.
It’s 1990 and Jon’s 30th birthday is fast approaching, much to his dismay. He hasn’t made a success of writing musicals and is starting to question his life choices. Especially as he sees childhood friend, Michael (Jordan Shaw), move out of the apartment they share in SoHo; his highflying new job on Madison Avenue means he’s moving up in the world. Jon knows that to be a success means staying in New York, but girlfriend, Susan (Gillian Saker), wants to move to New England. This is a contemporaneous account of the time leading up to Jon’s birthday, and the mounting of a workshop production of his futuristic musical Superbia.
The score is that classic rock sound that lovers of Rent will recognise, the wonderful up-tempo numbers like “30/90” and “Sugar” or haunting ballads like “Come to Your Senses”, gorgeously performed by Gillian Saker. They are executed brilliantly under the musical direction of Gareth Bretherton. The band seem to be loving every second of it and even get some speaking parts!
Chris Jenkins is outstanding in the role of Jon, he draws on Larson’s mounting anxiety and develops it through each scene. He never loses energy despite being on stage throughout and the highlight is his performance of “Why”, which is so captivatingly elegant.
Larson’s story is bathed in tragic irony, the success he dreamt of came eventually, but he wasn’t around to see it. So, the success is never realised in Tick, Tick… Boom! either, yet it feels like such an inspirational story – perhaps we have the unfair advantage of knowing how it all turns out – but the message of hope and hard work paying off still shines through. This is a lovingly crafted production that owes a lot to its composer, but just as much to its fantastic cast and creative team.