The second musical in the Notes from New York mini-season at the Duchess Theatre is tick…tick…BOOM! Written by Jonathan Larson who also penned Rent, the play is a three-hander, focussing on Jon, a scarcely disguised autobiographical wannabe composer of musicals and his girlfriend Susan, a dancer and room-mate Michael, a former actor who now has a successful City job. Jon is just about to turn 30 and anxious about his lack of success, especially as he is about to premiere his latest musical, a piece called Superbia, and feels under pressure from both his friend and girlfriend to change his path and abandon chasing his dream.
tick…tick…BOOM! was originally produced as a monologue and was only reconceived as a three-hander after Larson’s death. I do not know if this was ever his intention, or wheter it was a decision made by others, but I do believe that this is where the major weakness of this play lies. The secondary characters of Susan and Michael are very sketchily drawn and have very little opportunity to really engage with the audience, a problem exacerbated by the fact that the actors playing these two roles also have to cover all the other minor characters as well.
In the lead role, Paul Keating (right in the picture) is never off the stage in what is quite a demanding role. He was clearly unwell and had a horrific start to his first song, but he did extremely well to rediscover his composure and from midway in, settled into the role, delivering a warm, humerous performance from a character who could easily seem off-puttingly self-obssessed. Leon Lopez (left in the photo) is given very little to do as the friend who has turned his back on his creative side in exchange for a regular job with a good salary, and even his big moment, the revelation of his “illness”, ends up as a bit of a damp squib since we don’t really care for Michael. Finally but by no means least, Julie Atherton as the long-suffering girlfriend steals the show whenever she is given the opportunity. Her solo number “Come To Your Senses” is the highlight of the evening, and her comic turn as Jon’s agent is nicely pitched, owing a lot as it does to the infamous Estelle from Friends.
Following on from The Last Five Years, it was hard not be disappointed by this. Despite the high performance level and clever usage of minimal staging and lighting, the truth is that I just did not engage with this musical at all or find much that was likeable in it. One does end up wondering if this is a piece that would have received such attention, were it not for Larson’s tragic early death.