“Tick, tick… BOOM!”
That’s the internal sound of Jon’s anxiety with the pressure to achieve all his wildest dreams by the time he turns 30.
This isn’t something others have pushed onto him but instead is a deadline that he has given himself. And you know what? Many of us have done the same thing. Young women (myself as well at one point) feel the same societal pressures, with the narrative that they should find a partner and be married before they turn 30. But why 30? What’s so different from being 29 or 31-years-old? In reality, there isn’t much of a difference. Your body doesn’t evolve into some kind of wildebeest or the like. If anything, it is more the idea that by this age, you would have expected to know more, do more, and have figured out everything in your adult life.
With music, lyrics, and book by the late great Jonathan Larson, the 2023 Australian production produced by Storeyboard Entertainment, and direction by Tyran Parke, ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ is a semi-autobiographical musical set in New York in the 90s that tells the tale of an aspiring artist that just wants to make his mark in the world.
Starring a talented cast of only five, Hugh Sheridan, Elenoa Rokobaro, and Finn Alexander take on the roles of Jon, Susan, and Michael, with ensembles Sheridan Adams and Hamish Johnston completing the line-up. Although the cast is small and the set is minimal, it never feels small or minimal. Accompanied with a four-piece band, equipped with excellent scenic design and lighting design by Christina Smith and Matt Scott respectively, four of the cast members of this production take on multiple characters to assist the narrative. Finn Alexander is a standout in this, and I am convinced at this point that he can do anything.
I understand that many musicals require glitz, glamour, and even theatrical tricks to tell their story and there’s nothing wrong with that, but ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ is different. It doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to succeed. Intimate and defined, ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ is essentially about time, art, and heart.
The story is so gripping and personal, you really feel like Sheridan’s character Jon is confessing his deepest desires and greatest fears to you directly, even in a big theatre, and it is all severely relatable. Although I can commend this to Sheridan’s thorough acting chops, it is the work itself that is the greatest hero. While Jon therapeutically unloads to the audience, through its 90-minute duration, ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ showcases the most beautiful songs that marry well with its story.
The catchy and dynamic ‘Thirty/Ninety’ sets the scene on Jon’s anxiety to achieve while aging, and ‘Johnny Can’t Decide’ carefully but blatantly displays the same fears from the rest of the characters in the production. But it is the songs ‘Come to Your Senses’ and ‘Why’ that really broke me, not because the cast did a wonderful job of executing Larson’s work (although Elenoa Rokobaro did the most sublime rendition of ‘Come To Your Senses’ – my favourite song of the musical), but because both these moments were very moving and passionate reminders that time is fleeting, and of the incredible talent that we lost far too soon.
I want more Australian productions to be brave to put on works like this. Simple but powerful. At the end of the day, I am certain that what we cherish and desire most when it comes to musicals is to be told a great story, and although Jonathan Larson wrote this 5 years before his death and I’m sure the meaning of this musical has changed since his passing, ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ remains to be a great story.
I am thankful for Storeyboard Entertainment for not only ‘making their mark’ of taking Larson’s work across Australia, who changed musical theatre by injecting rock music onto the stage, but also for doing so around what would have been Jonathan Larson’s 63rd birthday on the 4th of February, the weekend just gone.
Passionately inspiring, I left ‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ wiping my tears not in sorrow, but in gratitude. Long after leaving the theatre, the songs were still fresh and running loops in my head, but so were Jon’s ideals. I couldn’t help but reflect on my own passions and goals, and while I won’t be giving myself an age or time limit per se, as a creative in my own right, I really hope that I too make my own mark in this industry, in this world, and that I (unlike the magnificent creator with his musical ‘Rent’) am alive to witness it happen.
‘Tick, Tick… BOOM!’ is on an 2023 Australian national tour, playing in Melbourne at the Comedy Theatre until February 12th before making its way to Brisbane in March and Sydney in April.
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Photography by Grant Alexander.