Theatre Review: tick, tick…BOOM! explores growing up at age 30
Tonight, Evolution Theatre Company opens Jonathan Larson’s rock musical tick, tick…BOOM!
An autobiographical piece, tick, tick…BOOM!, tells the story of Jon (Jonathan Collura), a struggling musical theater composer in New York City in 1990. A few days before his thirtieth birthday, Jon confesses to the audience that he hears this crescendoing ticking noise as his day approaches. In those few days, he prepares for a workshop of a new rock musical he wrote, fights with his girlfriend Susan (Kaitlin Descutner), and copes with his lifelong best friend, former actor, and roommate, Michael (Christopher Storer), moving out due to his high-paying corporate America job. Comparing himself to Michael, Jon frequently wonders if or when he too may “sell out.”
Larson wrote and performed the show in 1990 as a one man “rock monologue” as he called it. After his death in 1996, the monologue was transformed into the three person musical know today as tick, tick…BOOM!. This explains one of the core problems with the show: the story never called for the form it became, thus making it an excruciatingly passive play. The characters seem mildly contrived and the dialogue feels forced; however, in Larson style, the music rocks.
Musical director Hillary Billups leads a talented trio of singers through this former rock monologue. Standout songs include Descutner’s “Come to Your Senses,” Collura’s “Why” and Storer’s “No More.” Also, the boys in the band: Tim Sauter, Andrew Richard, Brent Lambert, and David Swank, prove phenomenal and imperative.
Despite the rocking music, the script inherently presents problems. Aside from the overall passive nature of the characters, the story suffers because it basically tells the tale of a late twenty-something who fears a “real job” and life commitments. Yes, many people face these feelings, but audiences do not often flock to see shows where people spend ninety minutes effectively whining. Jon spends the majority of the evening comparing himself to his best friend, craving things he does not work for and almost resenting it while fighting with his girlfriend as she expects him to make adult decisions. It feels like a coming-of-age story melded with a mid-life crisis. In fact, Jon calls it his “pre-mid-life crisis.” This script serves as a session with the audience filling as the proverbial therapist.
This production unfortunately aides this passivity with relatively bland blocking, when rock-like choreography or a more innovative move is called for. Because this script features a cumbersome amount of spoken exposition, the production demands ample visual story-telling which often lacks, particularly in “Why” or “Therapy.”
Overall, Curtis Brown designs effective and refreshingly varied lighting. This production also makes use of good scenic decorations, especially for “Sugar,” but the majority of set and props consist of cardboard. Director and set designer Zach Hartley makes an interesting choice with this and fully commits to it, which is commendable, though it remains a bit confusing. Perhaps it underscores Jon’s whining and fear of growing up, as children often use boxes as playthings.
Though the script focuses on Jon and his issues, it also briefly attempts to challenge the audience to truly and fully live their lives. Because of that, there exists one big missed opportunity at the end of the performance. The team could have made the stale show an encompassing story about human existence, making it a reflection on life and a call to action for the audience. Though the performers sing those words, the adage “actions speak louder than words” seems forgotten at times in this production.
tick, tick…BOOM! plays through August 17 at The Shedd Theatre in the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Avenue. Thurs-Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 2 pm. Premium Admission is $25; General is $20; Student and Seniors $15.
More information can be found online at www.evolutiontheatre.org.