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BWW Review: TICK, TICK...BOOM!, Park Theatre

After an absence of almost a decade, tick, tick...BOOM! bursts back onto the London stage at the Park Theatre. There's plenty of energy, a natural spark among the three leads, but little emotional impact in this revival. It ticks, ticks along, but lacks the boom.

Jon is a twenty-turning-thirtysomething composer who feels stuck, watching as his friends and family move on. Jonathan Larson was a thirtysomething composer when he first penned and performed this autobiographical rock monologue. This was prior to his magnum opus Rent, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with a UK tour. David Auburn later adapted Larson's monologue into three parts, making it a rock musical led by three actors.

"You can't put rock on stage," laments Jon as he considers the future of Broadway. Fast-forward to 2017 and no fewer than three rock musicals grace major London stages: tick, tick...BOOM!, Whisper House and School of Rock. (Although with a slight dig at Andrew Lloyd Webber in this production, I'm not sure Larson would want to be counted in this company.) It's an eclectic but eloquent soundtrack. Opening with the rocking "30/90", we go from a hoedown throw-down in "Therapy", to a Sondheim inspired "Sunday" in homage to his idol and mentor.

With corded phones and less-than-mobile-phones, Bronagh Lagan's show is a 90s flashback in 90 minutes. Park90 becomes a New York apartment, with some unremarkable set-pieces and a band at the back. It's intimate, but not enough that I could make out every word. Fortunately, Ben Rogers' lighting makes up for this, perfectly illuminating the mood.

There's some laughs to be had with the 20th-century nostalgia. A reference to the "conservative, complacent" period of George Bush, however, yields no laughs from an audience having to live with Donald Trump. The real comedy comes from the cast: they are all great physical and character actors, showcased brilliantly in "Sunday".

While perhaps moved to tears of laughter, these were the only ones I shed. In a musical which is so metatheatrical, so aware of its inspiration and its writer, it's hard not to compare it to Rent. If I so much as hear "I'll Cover You", I cry. Michael's confession should prove a similarly moving moment.

But with the narrative firmly focused on Jon, we don't have time to process how we feel for Michael, his childhood friend who swapped acting for a lucrative career. While the monologue structure stays true to Larson's original, it creates a distance between the audience and the other two characters. This distance is only furthered with the music and sound drowning out dialogue at points, and a lack of diction from the men.

If we are bound to Jon, that's not to say Chris Jenkins doesn't make for a great companion. He is the heart of the show: looking out into the audience, he connects with every single person. Jenkins' rendition of "Why" is a showstopper, although it leaves you asking why you are not more emotionally connected.

Gillian Saker plays his girlfriend Susan, vocally the strongest singer; shades of a young Idina Menzel, with the comedic talent of Kristin Chenoweth. Jordan Shaw is Michael, with the best moves and a moving portrayal. All three have undeniable chemistry, even in the various iterations of the other characters Saker and Shaw take on.

"Is our generation different because we've never grown up?" Peter Pan is another recurring reference, which makes for a fitting (if also foreboding) comparison. As an audience, we want to fly away, follow the other characters. But constrained to 90 minutes and one narrator, we have to stay with him. We are Peter Pan's shadow: living in the shadow, both of Jon and Jonathan.

tick, tick...BOOM! at Park Theatre until 27 May

Picture credit: Claire Bilyard

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From This Author Rona Kelly