Pursued By Bear burst onto the Melbourne Musical Theatre scene back in 2013 with a critically acclaimed production of Next To Normal. Since then, the team have produced well received, high quality musicals at Chapel Off Chapel. Their newest offering is no exception, Tick, Tick… BOOM! is an energetic and emotional must-see offering of musical theatre in Melbourne this week.
Penned (and performed as a “rock monologue” in 1990 and 91) by Jonathan Larson before his more widely known Rent, this musical is an autobiographical look at an artist struggling to have their work noticed in the madness of New York. It’s a love story to the struggling artist screaming into the abyss and Larson’s alt-rock style of musical barrels the whole thing along at an engaging and frenetic pace.
The cast sit at the centre of this work. A main trio comprised of Luigi Lucente (Jon), Angela Scundi (Susan and various others) and Quin Kelly (Michael) are accented by two excellent vocalists/swings, Rebecca Heatherington and Mitch Roberts.
The first thing that immediately strikes the audience about this cast – other then their obvious talent – is how much clear and unabashed fun they are all having with the piece. Lucente in particular can’t seem to drop the twinkle from his eye for much of the 85-odd minutes running time and this is a wonderful thing when he spends much of his time directly communicating with and guiding the audience. Scundi is a powerhouse of both vocal and acting ability as Susan and effortlessly transitions between her main role and most of the other female roles in the play without it being confusing or jarring for the audience. Kelly is the closest to a weak link the trio has, but Michael is such a repressed and struggling character that it’s hard for him to let go in the same way as the other two.
The design (Sarah Tulloch) of Tick, Tick… BOOM! further highlights the talent of the cast. With much of the piece performed around or on top of a single piano that is constantly wheeled and spun around the space it would be easy to lose control of it or for some hesitancy to be present. There however was clearly strong direction from Paul Watson and plenty of rehearsal given with such an unwieldy and difficult design choice that allows it integrates with the rest of the piece. The rest of the design surrounds the space and is more form then function. Music sheets scattered around the floor and halogen light bulbs flicker and dim in time with the music and transitions of any given scene. Overall the piece feels surrounded by a warm and close environment in which it is welcomed and given plenty of room to breathe.
At the end of the day however the piece is catapulted from good to great by the charm and wit of Lucente’s Jon. The audience is on his side right from the beginning and you desperately find yourself wishing for his success. The context of the difficult life Larson led around the writing of the piece only serves to strengthen the experience of viewing if you know it but isn’t so heavily autobiographical that you need to know it to enjoy Tick, Tick… BOOM!
Go see it if you like musicals, go see it for an emotional ride, but most of all go and see it because it will make you want to pursue your passions with the same fervour as Jon and Jonathan did.