tick, tick…BOOM! book, music & lyrics by Jonathan Larsen. The Bridge House Theatre, Penge, London SE20 to 27 October. 4****. William Russell

tick, tick…BOOM!
Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larsen.
The Bridge House Theatre, Penge, London SE 20 to 27 October 2019.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat 4pm. Sun 2.30pm & 5.30pm
Runs 90 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 0208 1330311.

Review: William Russell 4 October.

First staged in 1991 off Broadway Jonathan Larsen’s musical is about the struggles of a youngish composer – his 30th birthday is looming – in New York to get his musical Superbug put in to production. Larsen achieved success in 1996 with Rent, his rock opera based on La Boheme, but it was a success he had not lived to enjoy. He died before the show opened. He had performed tick, tick BOOM!, which is about his own struggles, as a rock monologue, but in 1996 David Auburn took the piece at the request of Larsen’s friend Victoria Leacock and turned it into a three actor show. It opened in 2001, was a success and has been widely performed throughout the world, and several times in London. It is a very New York piece and the tick,tick of the title is not, as one might have thought, a metronome urging the composer to work harder but an indication of the artistic crisis he is going through trying to cope with his love life, his best friend, his agent and writing his musical. It pulls on quite a lot of familiar, even over familiar strings and some of the New York references mean nothing much to most audiences here. But given the right cast, and in this very slick production directed by Guy Retallack the cast is as good as you could get, its more over familiar moments pass by without hindering the show.
Alex Lodge plays Jon, the about to be 30 year old on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with great style. He is handsome, a born charmer and has a rather good voice, which is just as well as he has to do an awful lot of the singing. All the other characters are played by James Hume, notably Jon’s best friend and about to leave flatmate Michael, and his girlfriend Susan, a dancer facing up to the fact that show business is not for her, who is trying to get Jon to see the same is true for him. Michael, whom he met at school, is meanwhile trying to persuade Jon to join him in the world of advertising, having given up his own theatrical ambitions for a fklash car and Gucci belts and is now doing very well indeed, except that he has just found out he is sick and is not going to get better. They are both on top form, rising to the challenge of keeping the various characters they have to play quite distinct, no easy thing to do. Hume manages to carry off his disclosure to Jon that he has Aids most affectingly, while Ashford rises to her big solo number in true show stopping style. Like the effervescent Lodge they also can both sing, something worthy of note these days.
There is a nice running gag about Stephen Sondheim, a name so sacred that Jon cannot bring himself to quite utter it in its entirety – his disappointment when the great man turns up to hear the demonstration performance of Superbia but leaves without saying anything is painful to see. According to the programme the voice of Sondheim – he does not actually appear – is played by Stephen (the God) Sondheim, not, perhaps the most auspicious use of words as the last show business God was Harvey Weinstein. But no matter. The birthday boy crisis plot is a tribute to the great man, although in Company the hero is about to become 35.
tick, tick…BOOM! is a sophisticated, entertaining superbly performed evening which, although the show has been done several times over the years in fringe houses around London, deserves with this cast to have a life beyond Penge.
The score is played by Jamie Ross off stage. It is a bravura performance in itself.

Jon: Alex Lodge.
Michael: James Hume.
Susan: Georgie Ashford.
All other roles are played by Ashford and Hume.
Voice of Stephen Sondheim: Stephen (the God) Sondheim.

Director: Guy Retallack.
Musical Director: Jamie Ross.
Designer: Natalie Johnson.
Lighting Designer: Richard Williamson.
Sound Designer: Phil Lee.
Movement Director: Paul Harris.
Dialect Coach: Caitlin Stegemoller.
Production photographs: Jamie Scott-Smith.

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