Jon Preston reviews the latest offering at BHT
I have just acquired a Smart Phone. I’d resisted one for years. Decades, even. However, my mum died in August and I now know, deeply, how life ends. I also know I’ve still got lots to achieve. As far as conquering Smart Phones goes, why wait? Suddenly, then, my window on the world has opened and I am being propelled forward on a wave of modern technology. I haven’t looked back. I mention all this because “Tick, Tick…Boom!”, currently playing at the Bridge House Theatre, is about just that. Living your life.
The story centres on Jon, a struggling Musical Theatre writer. We find him in his New York apartment just days before his thirtieth birthday. He has not yet enjoyed professional success, either as a writer, a composer or a lyricist. He does have a workshop reading of his latest offering, “Superbia”, coming up which Jon feels will be his ‘make or break’ moment. Jon’s girlfriend Susan is also struggling professionally, though as an actress. She lives in an illegal sublet on 96th Street and ‘pirates’ her cable TV. Jon’s other friend is more successful, enjoying the fruits of his corporate marketing career. Michael drives a BMW and has just bought a luxury Manhattan apartment. He and Jon shared a childhood of fun and dreams, with boys enjoying a passion for theatre. However, whilst Jon stuck to the plan, Michael bailed in search of the dollar. Thus, the play is set up nicely for an exploration of the values of 90’s materialism in America and how dreams may, or may not, be shattered by ‘real life’.
Successful Musical Theatre plays need the songs to roll seamlessly in and out of the action. Because Jon is a composer, the appearance of music at various points during the story makes narrative sense. It is not strange when the characters burst into song as a way of adding depth to the storyline or their characters. However, in our digital age, there is something a little quaint about this composer sitting at a stand-alone keyboard with a guitar to hand and not a computer in sight.
In this production, the company of three ably manage their main roles whilst inhabiting other parts convincingly when needed. Their accents are authentically middle-class New York and their harmony singing is precise. Alex Lodge’s sustained, high-energy performance as the slightly neurotic Jon is enhanced by his skilled piano playing. Indeed, although he leaves his keyboard mid-song at points during the show, the music keeps playing. It was only in an after-show conversation with the Musical Director, Jamie Ross, that he was revealed as a second pianist. During some musical numbers, Ross picks up when Lodge puts down in an impressive example of collaborative keyboard-playing. Georgie Ashford’s Susan is as supportive as her Karessa is seductive and James Hume’s Michael is authentic in his corporate-man-wakes-up-to-life routine. Watch out for the double portrayal of Jon’s agent Rosa Stevens, a fun way to showcase versatility in casting. Most of the song lyrics have an edge and the music is catchy but the barnstormer is the three-hander “Real Life”, powerfully delivered with glorious round-type harmonies. The set evokes the New York skyline and Guy Retallack’s sure-footed direction takes the audience into a wider Manhattan experience, with well-judged lighting and sound effects all helping the show along.
“Tick, tick…Boom!” is set in a 1990 New York, before the terrible events of 9/11 and the Gulf Wars. Despite that era seeing the AIDS epidemic and both Bushes in the White House,
there is an innocence about the whole piece that feels a little out of step with today’s Climate Emergency world. That said, there is nothing wrong with being reminded of the importance of living life to the full and following your dreams. The Bridge House Theatre Company is offering a good night out. Why not take them up on it?
You can purchase a ticket here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/bridgehousetheatrese20