Butter Side Up’s Tick, Tick, Boom! – 1 October 2022, Victoria Centre, Sheffield

Review by Jacob Bush.

“Following a hugely successful film starring Andrew Garfield, Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry being released late last year, Butter Side Up Theatre Company have taken on the somewhat obscure autobiographical Jonathan Larson musical as their first licensed musical, after previously focusing on purely new writing.

Tick, Tick, Boom! tells the story of Jon (aka Jonathan Larson) and his struggles as an aspiring musical theatre writer about the turn 30 in New York. With a small cast, the show explores his love life and his friendships and how his focus on work can get in the way of his relationships.

Larson’s score is great and you can definitely see how he arrived at Rent, his more famous musical, after this. His book combines direct address, narrating the action to the audience, and realistic scenes making it a challenging piece to stage. Max Marriott directs this production. Nothing revolutionary is done here but Marriott makes good use of the unconventional performance space. Some clearer differences in staging and tone between ‘the show’ and the realistic scenes would have elevated the production. Michael Hudson’s choreography is enjoyable, although at times it feels like it springs up completely out of the blue rather than flowing out of the action. Livs Needham has does a fantastic job at bringing out the challenging harmonies and the small band under her direction sounds brilliant.

Mason Jones leads the cast, taking on the hugely demanding role of Jon. He is a strong leading man, demonstrating his fantastic vocal ability. His acting through song is great but some of his other acting can feel a little one note. It would have been good to see a little more optimism in his characterisation earlier on so that as things fall apart towards the end, the action has a larger emotional impact on the audience. Jones does demonstrate some great comic timing dotted throughout the show, and it would be great to see him lean into that a little bit more.

Ellie Madeira plays Jon’s girlfriend, Susan in this production. They do a fantastic job at characterising both Susan and Karessa and making the two characters significantly different. They have a lovely singing voice that blends with Jones’ beautifully, with Therapy being a highlight of the show.

Lewis Dawson is brilliant as Jon’s best friend, Michael. Dawson and Jones bounce off each other and have a great rapport. Dawson’s vocals are powerful and he demonstrates a good range in his acting, with the reveal of his illness being very well delivered.

This production adds two additional cast members (in most productions, there are only three performers) to take on most of the ensemble roles. Tara Kulbatski is a particular stand out as Rosa Stevens, Jon’s agent. Becky Cleary is also very enjoyable in her numerous roles, most notably Jon’s Dad. Both Cleary and Kulbatski add some much-needed comedy to the musical, which is otherwise quite emotionally heavy for the most part.

Butter Side Up’s production of Tick, Tick, Boom! is an admirable attempt at a notoriously difficult musical to stage. It is a joy to see some fantastic local talent on stage who all give everything they’ve got to playing some challenging roles. The company will no doubt continue to get better and better as they hopefully take on more pre-existing musicals in the future.”

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