Review: Tick, Tick… Boom!

A tragicomic musical about a man on the brink of thirty shines on the ADC stage

‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ is a semi-biographical musical about the composer Jonathon Larson, prior to his acclaimed rock musical ‘Rent’. 

It follows Jon’s (Xander Pang) life the week before his 30th birthday, raising existential questions about the starving artist and unfulfilled potential. As his girlfriend Susan (Izzy Benson) and his best friend Michael (Isaac Jackson) are moving on with their lives, he is hung up on creating the next Great American musical.

Following the success of last year’s film adaptation starring Andrew Garfield, the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society’s rendition of ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ promised both humour and heartbreak. This performance, directed by Mimi Pattinson, was rife with exciting musical moments and compelling dialogue. 

Thankfully, the absence of Andrew Garfield did not detract from the performance.

I was immersed from the very beginning. Whilst waiting for the lights to dim, a ticking could be heard over the speakers. A metaphor for life ticking away, perhaps, or maybe for something explosive to come. We were not left disappointed.  

Leading actor Pang shined in his role as Jon. By telling his story through a series of personable fourth wall breaks, the audience felt connected with his struggle. Waiting tables to make ends meet, fights with his girlfriend, an obsession with American composer Stephen Sondheim – everybody can relate to Jon in some way or another. 

I was cautious about a show manned with only three actors. Yet, they worked seamlessly on stage, performing a range of impressive transitions. There were effective costume changes and expert multi-roling, giving the impression of a well-oiled machine.

Despite some of the more serious themes, this musical was indubitably funny: from shameless crossdressing to actors tangled in phone wires. The actors balanced and shared a series of comedic roles, from stereotypical New Yorker parents to sexually frustrated businesspeople.

The on-stage chemistry, both platonic and romantic, between the characters was arguably the strongest element of the performance. For a musical that is essentially a ‘week-in-the-life’, investment into the characters’ lives is essential. After the charged ‘Green Dress’ number, I was hooked.

With songs ranging from the nature of growing up, to Twinkie snack cakes, the huge-bodied score was ambitious and adept. Musical director Elizabeth Vogel tackled it with grace. A musical highlight was Izzy Benson’s goosebump-inducing solo as Carissa. The audience was thoroughly enthralled: you could have heard a pin drop between the notes.  

The musical is written by (and based on the life of) the composer Jonathan Larson. Without spoiling the story, many of the events in his life that inspired his work ‘Rent’ were captured wonderfully here, giving emotional depth to an already tense question of adulthood in the artistic world. Despite the audience’s knowledge of his future success, the performance was strong enough for us to despair over Jon’s losses, and by the end, keep us hopeful for what is to come. 

Without being overly sad or too light-hearted, CUMTS have created a thought-provoking comedic rendition of ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’



‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ is playing in the ADC from Wednesday 19th to Saturday 22nd. Tickets on sale here.

Feature image designed by Anna Piper-Thompson