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Review: 'Tick, Tick… Boom!' @ Comedy Theatre

8 February 2023 | 4:07 pm | Mallory Arbour

It’s a musical for dreamers who, despite all odds, keep going. For others, it gives a real insight into the struggles of an artist.

Tick, Tick… Boom! made its professional debut at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre last night. The semi-autobiographical musical drama is based on the life of composer and playwright Jonathan Larson on the brink of his 30th birthday in 1990 in New York City.

Larson tragically passed away at the age of 35 before the first off-Broadway preview of ground-breaking musical Rent. Although this fact is left out of the production and thus, Tick, Tick… Boom! becomes a story about hope, aspirations, staying true to one’s life’s purpose and following one’s dreams despite its setbacks. The ticking element here represents his anxiety and passing of time.

It’s a musical for dreamers who, despite all odds, keep going. For others, it gives a real insight into the struggles of an artist.

StoreyBoard Entertainment's Tick, Tick… Boom! stars Hugh Sheridan (Jonathan), Finn Alexander (Michael), Elenoa Rokobaro (Susan) and Sheridan Adams and Hamish Johnston in supporting roles.

Having recently seen Alexander as the lead in Soundwork Productions’ Urinetown, I can confirm his obvious star power. Here, he slays in the role of best friend Michael as well as other supporting players – as the rest of the cast also does – with one in particular receiving the biggest laugh. His performance was a real tour de force and I hope a sign of bigger and better things to come.

Another standout is Rokobaro, who plays Jonathan’s girlfriend Susan. Her show-stopping performance of Come To Your Senses was deserving of its rare mid-show standing ovation.

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Other standout songs/scenes include Thirty/Ninety, No More, Therapy, Why? and Louder Than Words. Another highlight is the constant, good-natured humour that keeps the show from ever becoming too serious, like interactions between Jonathan and his boisterous agent or loving dad.

The stage is minimal with some clever use of small, movable set pieces under set designer Christina Smith’s direction, as well as the orchestra visibly seated to the side. This is complemented by direction by Tyran Parke, inspired choreography by Freya List, retro costume design by Jodi Hope, and lighting design by Matt Scott, which is especially highlighted whenever the late, great composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story, Follies) is mentioned.

Sheridan shines as Jonathan. Despite acting less eccentric than Andrew Garfield in the film adaptation of Tick, Tick… Boom! (directed by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda in his feature film directorial debut) or in videos I’ve seen of Larson himself, Sheridan makes the role his own. While slow to start, by the end, he has fully transformed and settled into the demanding role. Sheridan is on stage for almost all of its 90-minute runtime, and that should be commended.

However, he is largely overshadowed by Alexander and Rokobaro. And, Sheridan, who is essentially carrying the weight of Tick, Tick… Boom! on his back, never quite reaches the height that the role so desperately calls out for. In the end, it's partially why the musical never goes beyond good to great.

I kept waiting for that elevation, but it never happened. I suppose that echoes Larson himself and the idea of Tick, Tick… Boom!, so, in theory, perhaps it’s actually perfect, but take that as you will.

However, all the blame is not put on Sheridan – he is an impressive singer, compelling actor and wildly charismatic. Even after flubbing a line, he quickly recovered, turning the mistake into an amusing and engaging moment with the audience. Moments like this help lift the show.

Its biggest detriment is the theatre size itself (at least in Melbourne - I can't comment on other states). The show is crying out for a smaller, intimate stage. Like the use of a close-up in film, you need to feel that closeness with material this personal. You want to get close, pull up a chair and feel like you’re listening to a dear friend unload his deepest desires and greatest fears. If you can manage to feel that then you won’t be disappointed. You’ll probably walk away with a tear in your eye and need for some deep self-reflection, not due to sorrow, but gratitude, of Larsen’s reminder to use our time well and not take things too seriously.

I heard one argue the musical “doesn’t go anywhere” but that’s a fault of not understanding the musical itself. We, as humans, like stories wrapped up in a neat bow, but Tick, Tick… Boom! is a tiny glimpse into one person’s life at a very specific time. For those wanting a succinct conclusion, this is not that story. I can only guess that’s why the film version had Larson’s death as the epilogue.

Tick, Tick… Boom! plays at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre until February 12 before moving to Brisbane in Brisbane in March and Sydney in April. More information and ticketing via