Theatre Review: Tick, Tick… Boom! doesn’t fully explode

Tick, Tick… Boom! is the semi-autobiographical story of playwright Jonathon Larson, who was most notable for creating the musical RENT. This story focuses on his time as a struggling writer, living in New York, writing his first musical, Superbia.

The story opens with the sound of ticking, the sound that becomes louder and louder in Jonathon’s head as he approaches his 30th birthday. He feels that time is running out for him to become a successful writer. He’s living in a dingy New York loft. Benjamin Maio Mackay plays Jonathon and has the heaviest load to carry in the play. He is living with his childhood friend Michael, played by Liam Edwards and is dating dancer Susan played by Tate Simpson. 

Both Michael and Susan are drawn to the American Dream of success and riches, while Jonathon adamantly wishes to pursue his personal dream of writing a successful play, even if that means sacrificing short-term wealth. His friend Michael moves out of New York, has a flashy car, a new apartment and a job with an advertising firm. He sets up Jonathon with a brainstorming session with his firm, for a new cooking oil, which ends badly as Jonathon can’t bring himself to sell out to the corporate world.

Meanwhile, Susan is drawn to life in the Hamptons, which means their relationship also becomes estranged.

He eventually manages to have a showing of Superbia and famous composer Stephen Sondheim is in the audience. He loves what he sees and contacts Jonathon. This partnership eventually leads to the creation of RENT. Unfortunately, Jonathon passed away from a burst aorta just before that show’s debut.

Tick, Tick…Boom! was originally a one-man play, but was expanded to a three-person play. Mackay plays Jonathon, whilst the other characters have small extra roles to cover. The set is fairly static and minimalistic, very much reminding one of the New York grunge feel. A checker-cloth table represents Jonathon’s time working as a waiter in a cafe. Apart from that not a lot of visual clues add to the story. The plush apartment that Michael has is the same set as the grungy loft. The lighting helps focus attention, as all three actors are on stage at all times, sitting in the wings when not actively part of the story.

The more upbeat songs worked better than the introspective ones. The four-piece band occupied the back corner of the stage, leaving a small space for the actors to perform. This meant that some of the dance numbers felt a little cramped. There were humorous moments, but it felt to me that the overall tone was more downcast, as Jonathon weighs up his life choices while his friends are having fun around him. The highs never reached too high, the lows never too deep.

In summary, it felt as if the cast were competent and committed to the story, but maybe first night-nerves meant that it didn’t come together as a whole. I’m sure that during the season the show will develop its timing and find its pace.

It’s a challenging story and one that deserves to be told.


Tick, Tick… Boom! is produced by the Lot Theatre Company and is being performed at Queen’s Theatre, Adelaide until Saturday 1st July

The reviewer attended the performance on Wed 28th June

Tickets available here