Saturday, 16 May 2009

Tick Tick...Boom

The company of Notes From New York

This afternoon I saw the Notes From New York series' production of Tick Tick...Boom and I've got to say I was rather underwhelmed. The Notes form New York series intrigued me somewhat as its something I've been longing for a while- contemporary Broadway and Off-Broadway transported to the West End without all that look at us aren't we amazing! Fuss. Whilst concept is brilliant, the execution is not. So far we've seen small-scale productions of The Last Five Years and Tick Tick...Boom plus a few concert type events. I do like both those shows but they're hardly anything new to England. Both were premiered by the Menier Chocolate Factory a few years ago, I missed out on the latter as I was too young (which is a damned shame as it feature the leg-en-dary Neil Patrick Harris who is coincidentally the next host of the Tonys!).

So to the show. I found the the book itself to be flawed with no clear resolution and an odd structure to the musical numbers. For example, Johnny Can't Decide, although one of my favourite songs just seems out of place so early on in the piece. That said I still prefer Tick Tick Boom to Rent, its much more organic and genuine The set confused me somewhat, Jonathan is meant to live in squalor- bathtub in the kitchen, climbing stairway after stairway to get to his bedsit. So why did he have a grand piano and natty cordless phone? I did like the use of the piano as another level within the set but they had a ledge by the backdrop/prop skyline that could have served exactly the same purpose.
The direction was very patchy; some numbers were staged very well, I particularly liked the No Mores' portrayal of furniture-orgasms and the simplicity and fluidity of Real Life. The show was really let down by the opening number 30/90 (another of my favourite songs) as it felt static and dull. An opening number is supposed to excite the audience and get them ready for the ensuing hour and a half, this just made me want to get back to my computer and look up Raul Esparza on youtube.
Possibly one the explanations to my enjoyment of Real Life and No More was Leon Lopez. I had previously seen him in Rent Remixed and found him to be one of the better parts of a lacklustre, misdirected farce. His vocals and acting suited the character of Michael, a soulful voice with some awesome use of dynamics especially during Real Life- such control! Despite being the least developed character in the piece, he allowed us to see through the tough marketing executive to see a loving friend inside.
Julie Atherton as Susan is an acquired taste. It took a while to get used to her voice, she is an amazing vocalist but her tone is very strange as if everything is being sung from the back of the throat which created a strange illusion in Come To Your Senses that she wasn't really trying yet a great sound was coming out. Once this was acknowledged I enjoyed her performance and characterisation of the many parts she played.
I was really disappointed by Paul Keating's portrayal of Jonathan. Jonathan, as narrator and lead of the piece, has to be able to hold the show together. For me, Keating did not managed to captivate me and I found myself drifting during his solos. I can't decide whether he was miscast or just took the character in the wrong direction. Jonathan has to be lovable and have a vulnerability about him and judging from previous characters played by Keating (most recently Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors) I expected this would come easily. Nope. Keating played Jonathan as very aggressive and a bit of a nymphomaniac, I found myself agreeing with Susan's decision to distance herself from him as he became more and more steely. It wasn't even anger which I could understand as a way of dealing with things (during the show Jonathan splits from his long term girlfriend and learns his best friend is dying), it was purely aggression. Another concern my friend and I had was with Keating's singing. His tuning was dodgy in places, getting the words wrong more than once and straining for most of the high notes. Surely the casting director was aware of the range of the character before they cast him? There must be plenty of other great actors who would love to anchor a piece like this and can reach the notes.

I was disappointed that I didn't love Tick Tick...Boom as much as I felt I should. I still really like the show but expected a lot more from a production that included some of the hottest talent in the West End. It also made me yearn to direct this show even more (which will probably never happen but I can dream). In my plans (mainly made on the hour long bus ride to college each day last year), the action takes place in a somewhat contemporary arena- the set consisting of Jonathan's workstation of comfy armchair and dodgy keyboard at the side and a vast set of metal staircases connected by a metal walkway in which most of the action takes place. This would allow for much more movement without it looking "dancey"; lots of running up and down staircases, that sort of thing. I see Jonathan as bit geekish and intimidated by the real life problems around him, preferring to surround himself with his work almost as a comfort blanket.

Raul Esparza before he got grizzly

Oh yes one more thing: Susan's dress wasn't green! How can you sing Green Green Dress with a grey dress? Plus (costume designer nitpicking warning) Michael was wearing a British cut suit yet he's a New Yorker. How can you tell? British cut suits have two slits so that you can ride your horse comfortably whilst American cut suits have just the one slit as obviously Americans aren't stupid enough to wear a suit to ride a horse. Thanks to Carson Kressley for teaching me that one.

I just get the feeling that Tick Tick...Boom was an afterthought to The Last Five Years, which (according to the friend who accompanied me to the show) was much better and really showcased the two stars.

Nb, there weren't any pictures of the Notes From New York production, so I've included a picture how it should be done, i.e. Raul Esparza.

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