Review: Tick, Tick, Boom!

By Emily Phillips

Having been involved in TDTC’s sellout production of RENT last year, I was thrilled to see the company bring Larson’s semi-autobiographical musical about his journey writing RENT to life, in what has proven another sell-out success for TDTC. The show follows Jonathan Lason (Tom Carroll) as his approaching thirtieth birthday also brings with it a mid-life crisis. He still hasn’t written the Broadway smash hit he’s promised his friends and family will make him a big-time success, and, being pulled from both directions, by his corporate bigshot roommate Michael (Midun Odunaiya) who quit acting years ago, and encourages Jon to do the same. Jon’s girlfriend Susan (Misha Joshi), wants Jon to move to New England with her for her new job, and Jon struggles to keep hold of his artistic passion. Tick, Tick Boom! is a raw musical about pursuing your dreams in the face of adversity, self-doubt and fear of failure, but it is ultimately a glowing love letter to the passionate art of musical theatre, something that radiated from the cast and team behind the show.

Firstly, a huge commendation must go to the producing team for this show made up of and who have gone above and beyond to create a poster that wouldn’t be out of place on a Playbill cover, and graphics and promotional material that have (alongside the talent of the wonderful cast), rightly earnt them a sell-out run. 

Durham’s City Theatre was the perfect intimate venue for this show, allowing Jon’s narrator-style commentary throughout the show to involve the audience in a wonderfully warm and engaging way. Having the band on stage acted as a constant reminder to the audience of Larson’s ingenious rock musical evolution. The band, led by Co-Musical Director felt like a true rock band, with an in-sync energy and tightness you’d expect from a group playing together for years. An ingenious choice from Director to include them as participants in one of the scenes connected the band even more with the cast and audience, an underdone privilege in musical theatre. The Musical Direction team of and deserve a huge amount of credit for their handling of some of musical theatre’s most difficult vocal material and I have never heard harmonies that crystal clear on a Durham stage, with the trio giving its audience a masterclass in vocal blend and ensemble work. 

’s choreography uses the space ingeniously, giving an illusion of space that is not there

I was worried coming in, knowing the stage size and that some of it would be occupied by the band, that the choreography would suffer as a result. I was put in my place. ’s choreography uses the space ingeniously, giving an illusion of space that is not there! Every move is intentional and adds to the delivery and meaning of each song, often to incredible comedic effect. The way she’s got the cast to move around the space propels the momentum of the musical, meaning that even in the ballads, there is never a moment of low energy. 

Credit must be given to the wonderful production team led by Production Manager for bringing Thomas’ vision to life so clearly and being so creative with a venue that has limited technical capabilities. The backstage team kept the show running seamlessly, despite a smoky surprise from the vintage TV on stage. It is incredible, the world that Hannah Thomas, ably assisted by Dylan Jimenez, has created in such a space. With just two chairs, a sofa, some LED strip lights, and three incredible performers, Thomas was able to transport us to Times Square, Jon’s apartment, an office, and a performing studio to name a few, and the audience was on board with it all the way. This level of creative problem-solving is but one example of the care and detail Thomas has put into her crystal-clear vision for this show, which was lovingly translated through every choice on stage and off. Another element where Thomas’ ingenuity shined was the use of multi-rolling, an ode to TDTC’s greatest strength, as Odunaiya and Joshi were given the opportunity to showcase the extent of their incredible range as performers, seamlessly swapping between a range of comedic roles. What I think is most impressive about Thomas’ direction is the cast’s visual camaraderie that transcended their roles. Joy emanated from the cast whenever they were on stage, and their joy infected their audience with a warmth and connection that bonded us even closer with the journeys of their three characters, which is in my opinion the true mark of a fabulous Director.

Joy emanated from the cast whenever they were on stage

I finally come to talk about Durham’s new ‘Holy Trinity’, Carroll, Odunaiya and Joshi, who created the ethos of a family on stage, infecting each other with radiant energy. Though the solo performances in this show were all astounding, the show becomes something of a masterpiece when all three are on stage together, and it is almost impossible to think of a compliment for one performer that doesn’t resoundingly apply to all three, hence my commenting on them as a unit first and foremost. All three singers were vocal powerhouses with incredible dexterity, who importantly let each other vocally shine through at various points, meaning it never at any point felt like a spotlight competition, which can happen in such small shows, again showing the respect the cast clearly have for each other. My only critique was that at points in the dialogue, there were some projection and diction issues that meant a few lines got lost, not detracting from the power of the performance though, and the trio were able to create a very authentic and relatable world for its audience to dive into.

as Jon has the perfect stage presence, charisma and comic timing, taking the audience along with him on his journey with such care and joy, a homage that I am sure Larson himself would have been flattered by. Each of his lines was well-considered with clear intention and each one was successful in its intended effect, a testament to Carroll’s talent and Thomas’ skilful direction. Carroll’s rendition of ‘Green, Green Dress’ with Joshi was a sure highlight, but though they shared many wonderful on-stage moments, I did think that the believable romantic chemistry between him and Joshi lacked at times. Their on-stage relationship shone most in ‘Therapy’, hilariously directed, choreographed and performed number that truly encapsulated the talents of the whole team. My favourite part of the show was the electric bromance between Carroll and Odunaiya, showed most excellently in ‘30/90’ and ‘No More’ filled with prancing ballet moves, tight harmonies and an infectious synergy. 

Though the solo performances in this show were all astounding, the show becomes something of a masterpiece when all three are on stage together

Odunaiya has a difficult job in this show, playing Larson’s ‘by the book’ flatmate, which could be a somewhat monotonous role, but Odunaiya excels in this role, extracting every comic beat and allowing the audience to invest themselves in Michael just as much as Jon. This engagement peaked in the emotional climax of the show when Michael reveals his illness to Jon, a sudden tonal shift that was handled with mature excellence by Odunaiya. Midun’s voice was perfect for this genre and his role specifically, belting every note with ease and picking up the energy on stage whenever he came on, I found myself awaiting his entrances. 

Last but certainly not least, Joshi’s portrayal of the needy girlfriend Susan was spellbinding. She handled Susan’s nagging plea to move out of the city, with her justified annoyances with Jon to create a character you were able to greatly sympathise with. Joshi is an incredible dancer and moves with ease across the stage, especially in ‘Green, Green Dress’, where her dance skills are able to shine. Perhaps my favorite number in the show was Joshi’s powerful rendition of ‘Come to Your Senses’ which is emotionally intelligent and incredibly vocally powerful, with a stunning controlled belt. It would have been a difficult feat for one female voice to match the power of Odunaiya and Carroll combined and I truly don’t know many people that could have stepped up the challenge quite like Joshi. 

Though tickets for this show have gone quicker than you can say Tick, Tick Boom! I urge you to take this as a sign never to miss out on a TDTC production, as it will be one of the most intimate, professional and passionate shows you’ll have the pleasure of watching in Durham.

Image credit: Tone Deaf Theatre Company

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