Review: Tick, Tick…Boom! (9 Works Theatrical)

tick-tick-boomThe Play: Tick, Tick…Boom! Music by Jonathan Larson, book by David Auburn.

The Plot: Jon, a struggling composer, faces the challenge of exiting his 20s without any noteworthy achievements, let alone establishing himself as an artist; meanwhile, his best friend Michael and girlfriend Susan struggle with their own demons. The material is regarded as an autobiographical account of real life composer Jonathan Larson’s.

Direction by Robbie Guevara.

Cast: Jef Flores (Jon), Tanya Manalang (Susan), Ariel Reonal (Michael.)

Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, with no intermission.

Venue: The Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, 4th Floor, RCBC Tower, Buendia corner Ayala, Makati City.

This isn’t the first time for 9 Works Theatrical to stage a production another company had done before. Rent, Grease, Sweet Charity, The Last Five Years, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown — all had their own local iterations prior to getting produced by this group. These are good shows to stage; but it also opens 9Works to the accusation that these aren’t original choices.  Staging a “revival” of a show locally inevitably draws comparisons—particularly from anyone who has a sense of theater history.  You can’t help but compare your separate experiences if you’ve seen a different version of the show you’re about to watch.

For context: Tick, Tick, … Boom! was performed back in 2002 under the helm of Atlantis Productions with Jett Pangan, Michael de Mesa, and Bituin Escalante. While not quite as well received as its previous mega-hit, Rent, Atlantis had a name for bringing in the freshest and strongest material from abroad—in this case, staging Tick, Tick, … Boom! just after it had debuted on Off-Broadway with a cast featuring the likes of Raul Esparza (Law & Order SVU, Hannibal), and later replacements Molly Ringwald and Joey McIntyre.

In other words: when it was staged way back when, this show was the shit.

It’s with this in mind that I trekked to see 9Work’s version, hoping that it wouldn’t suffer in comparison.

The verdict: In terms of performances, it doesn’t. However, its other theatrical elements need another, good long hard look.

(I realise as I write this that this was a press night—otherwise the final technical rehearsal that is open to members of the media—so many things will hopefully have been adjusted for.)

Successes

Overall, the performances of Mr Flores, Ms Manalang and Mr Reonal are all ably done, and serve the material well. There are some hiccups; unfortunately the evening we watched, Mr Flores struggled with his higher register. His lower register is still quite mellifluous, and he delivers his lines with a naturalness that is very easy to appreciate.

Meanwhile, Mr Reonal is given the challenge of interpreting at least two different characters in addition to his most salient role as Michael. These characters are sufficiently distinct from each other, and offer many comedic moments. Most noteworthy: Mr Reonal is quite the dancer, and is arguably one of the more graceful actors to appear onstage.

Ms Manalang is quite the mistress of the torch song, though she still has enough comic awareness that lets her garner laughs. Her singing is mature and nuanced; very pleasing is her clarity, each word enunciated well and totally in service to the text. Her stage relationship with Mr Flores alternates between tender and forceful; this ingenue is delightfully bellicose when called for.

 Areas of Growth

If this review damns the actors with faint praise, it’s largely because they are restrained by the staging of the show. The other artistic elements impede what otherwise is good material, and pull down what were excellent performances to merely decent ones.

Musically speaking: the show has many lovely moments. Three songs in particular, “30/90”, “Come to Your Senses”, and “Louder than Words” are the flagship anthems of what is a powerful rock musical score. However, these moments—what should be the most powerful moments—are stymied by various technical decisions that mystify the audience.

“30/90” is a triggered response to ageing; it rails at Jon’s present condition as an artist who has to struggle with his current situation. One would think that this should rail with an urgent tempo, and yet one couldn’t shake the feeling that the band was keeping Mr Flores in check because it couldn’t keep up with the actor’s pace. As a result, the show opens with a tepid number that leaves you thinking: “Is that it? Why is this so important anyway? Who cares if you’re turning…30.”

“Come to Your Senses” is a torch song that should electrify the audience with its powerful yearning for connection between two people formerly in love. It…should. Though Ms Manalang’s voice is lovely and stirring, for some reason or another she is not lit throughout most of the scene. Instead, the audience is treated to a silhouette that sings well, but doesn’t project emotion visually. One is left wondering: what is happening here? What technical error happened? And if intentional: why on earth would you want to hide an actor’s face even as longing is laced in her voice?

Additionally: “Come to Your Senses” is the one scene in the musical that shows the band; ordinarily, the band is hidden behind a thick black curtain. When they are finally revealed, the curtain is lifted and the sounds of the band are richer and far more poignant, which begs the question: why is the band, a powerful vehicle of the score, suppressed by the set?

Finally, “Louder than Words” is remarkably free of musical dynamics or visual power. It is the finale which should be a song that raises the questions of a generation, summarised in an angry query: “Cages or wings, which do you prefer?” Instead, it raises another question and answer: “Did they pick cages? Because they’re not moving, and looked trapped by the blocking.”

All these concerns point to one final question: who decided this? Because theatre is collaborative, this can be attributed to direction and design well within the purview of director to set designer to musical director, or all three. Hopefully these issues get addressed during the run proper.

This review began by pointing out that there were previous iterations of Tick, Tick…Boom! in the Philippines. With several adjustments, it just might match the first one. But it will take some doing, starting with the three songs mentioned above.

Quick Observations

  • Traffic being what it is, please plan arrive on time. The show is unforgiving to latecomers who miss the material’s delicate setups.
  • Who did it best? You’ll know what I’m talking about after seeing Ariel and Tanya show their takes.
  • If you want a surprise, sit on the end of a row towards the rear right side of the theatre. Audience participation, no matter how small, is always appreciated.
  • The script seems to have been updated from its original book. If so, one wonders at the dramaturgy — but this is worth a separate post.

 

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