Theater Review: TICK, TICK… BOOM! (Up Next Productions at the Thymele Arts Atlas Space)

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by Alan Ishii on December 9, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles


One of the fortunate effects of the world spiraling into madness and postponing what was supposed to be Up Next Productions’ thirty-year anniversary tick, tick… BOOM!, slated for Spring 2020, is prodigious timing. The recent passing of Stephen Sondheim (a looming presence throughout the work), a year-and-change of having to cope with plague via COVID bringing haunting relevance as far as the theme of HIV is concerned, and Netflix’s freshly streaming presentation of said opus all conspire to make Fall 2021 prime season for tick, tick… BOOM!.

Adapted by David Auburn posthumously from a rock monologue by Jonathan Larson, tick, tick… BOOM! is a pleasant parlor musical with material that can hold its own, maintain interest, resonate, and get laughs on the most limited of production budgets. While lacking the frenetic kookiness of Rent, a bona fide Jonathan Larson work, it serves as a diet Rent, touching on self-doubt, life crises, friendship, hilariously doomed relationships, to the backdrop of New York City during those tragic, midpoint years of the AIDS epidemic. Competent, streamlined tailoring by Auburn makes the hour-and-a-half duration of the musical breeze by.

Overall, Up Next Productions and director Clint Foley succeed within the intimate constraints of the Thymele Arts Atlas Space. While Isaac Robinson-Smith, Mandie Hittleman, and Christopher C. Fishburne, in the roles of Jon, Susan, and Michael, respectively, are more actors than singers, each effectively taps into the essence of the characters, allowing forgiveness of technical roughness. However, what are supposed to be show-stopping, vocal powerhouse numbers (“Come to Your Senses”, namely) are a bit robbed of their oomph. But again, the likability factor, chemistry, and flexibility of the actors make up for the sometimes muddled diction or opting for easier melismas when the score demands a nice, strong, sustained note.

Jenna Byrd offers exceptionally tight musical direction of the band, though it should be criminal to play electric keyboard when there is a piano in house, especially with such a piano-heavy score. (And hats off to Robinson-Smith, for playing piano quite nicely himself on “Why”.) Jasmine Ejan’s choreography, while a bit overdone in the more low-key sections, did shine brightly in the numbers where strong movement  was needed. The minimal sets and props warmly conveyed the intimacy intended by the work; however, it was questionable to place the band center stage, when onstage real estate at the Thymele is so minimal, and pit musicians (having been on piano for a production of Tick, Tick… Boom! myself with the Lineage Theater in Pasadena) generally do not like being the visual focus of the audience, as much of what we do looks unflattering and is best left under cover of darkness elsewhere.

tick, tick… BOOM!
The Atlas Space at Thymele Arts
Sundays at 7pm (dark Dec. 26)
ends on February 13, 2022
5481 Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood
for tickets, visit UpNextProds

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