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Turning-30 Rock: "tick... tick... BOOM!", at the Harrison Hilltop Theatre through July 26 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 20 July 2009 06:00

Tracy-Pelzer Timm, Adam Michael Lewis, and Michael Crowe in tick... tick... BOOM!This past Thursday, the Harrison Hilltop Theatre celebrated not only the debut of its latest stage offering - the Jonathan Larson musical tick ... tick ... BOOM! - but the first anniversary of the venue's opening. And both were celebrated in style, with pre-performance hors d'oeuvres, beer samples from the Great River Brewery, an unveiling of the new Harrison Hilltop logo, and the announcement of the company's 2009-10 season.

The show was also preceded with a few words from co-producers Tristan Tapscott and Chris Walljasper about the significant improvements, cosmetic and technical, made within the building's interior over the past year, and the upgrades have been commendable; what was once a perfectly acceptable stage space has morphed into an endlessly malleable, honest-to-goodness theatre. Allow me, then, to publicly thank Tapscott and Walljasper - and newly minted Harrison Hilltop co-producers James Bleecker and Steve Quartell - for the party, and congratulate them on their first-year success. And I look forward to hearing them speak at the company's fifth-anniversary celebration, when hopefully enough time will have elapsed, and they can perhaps explain how Thursday's tick ... tick ... BOOM! went so dramatically, almost shockingly, wrong.

Tracy Pelzer-Timm and Adam Michael Lewis in tick... tick... BOOM!To take some initial heat off director Tapscott, music director Walljasper, and the three-person cast of Adam Michael Lewis, Tracy Pelzer-Timm, and Michael Crowe, I should mention that Larson's pop/rock musical seems a really tough one to produce effectively ... at least at present. Written years before Larson's Rent, and re-worked by playwright David Auburn (following Larson's 1996 death) for its 2001 off-Broadway debut, tick ... tick ... BOOM! is, like Rent, currently experiencing an awkward-adolescent period; the show is too dated to be terribly relevant, and too modern to be newly relevant.

Its premise finds Larson's alter ego (Lewis), on the eve of his 30th birthday, torn between his thus-far-unsuccessful career as a composer of musicals, and selling out for financial security - the road taken by his best friend, Michael (Crowe). With its Rent-lite hipster vibe and touching combination of poignancy and youthful narcissism, the show does boast some lovely, clever songs. But in the wake of Next to Normal and Passing Strange, to say nothing of Rent itself, it's hard to work up empathy for someone who whines (via first-person commentary) that Broadway producers "don't get" his rock-fueled style. And adding the lead's megalomania and incessant navel-gazing, the bohemian-slacker, artists-versus-the-suits attitudes that tick ... tick ... BOOM! espouses are so-o-o 1990s that any production of the show, nowadays, faces an uphill struggle: Why, exactly, are we meant to care about this character?

Well, you won't find your answer with Harrison Hilltop's latest, because what you get in Lewis' Jonathan Larson isn't a person; it's an oddly assembled collection of tics and mannerisms and overly practiced stand-up-comic cadences - energetic, occasionally funny, and not believable for an instant. Earlier this year, portraying precisely detailed characters, Lewis was spectacular in productions of The Mousetrap and Much Ado About Nothing. Here, though, this intensely gifted actor appears left completely to his own devices, and the strain is obvious; left with the vague task of playing "regular guy," Lewis attacks the part with such fanatical drive - working himself into apoplectic fits, screeching in mock outrage, bouncing like Tigger - that he doesn't seem human. There's nothing to latch onto with this frenzied whirligig, and he subsequently comes across as fraudulent even when required to show "heart." Wind-up toys don't have a heart.

Tracy Pelzer-Timm and Adam Michael Lewis in tick... tick... BOOM!Was Tapscott, who has directed Lewis numerous times over the years, so awed by the actor's vigor in the role that he failed to notice how inappropriate it was? Didn't he recognize that Lewis and Crowe, who are wholly unconvincing as lifelong best friends, weren't making any kind of emotional connection with one another? (Crowe, for his part, displays a nicely relaxed ease - too relaxed, it turns out, as you can barely hear a word he says even when he's standing less than 10 feet away from you.) Didn't he realize that the beautiful, inventive Pelzer-Timm - who, in her role as Jonathan's unhappy girlfriend, clearly is trying to make a connection - was frequently left hanging? (At least she provided some wit in her brief comic turns as Jonathan's abrasive agent and a clueless advertising executive.)

And not to be indelicate, but weren't Tapscott and Walljasper aware of how poorly sung the show was? Each had fine moments, but I've seen all three tick ... tick ... BOOM! actors in other musicals, and have performed alongside Lewis hundreds of times in the past, and I know they're not as vocally shaky and glaringly off-key as Thursday's solos and harmonies oftentimes indicated. (During a few of the really awkward numbers, I found myself clenching my jaw and squeezing my hands into fists just so I could direct my discomfort elsewhere.) With the exceptions of Walljasper's and Jeff Stone's impressive, two-tiered set and Tapscott's expressive lighting designs, I thought Harrison Hilltop's new production was an almost total mess, and I pray that its flaws were restricted to opening night, or at the very least, opening weekend. Subsequent performances, after all, won't come with the added benefit of beer.


For tickets and information, call (309)235-1654 or visit

Comments (20)Add Comment
From the Producer's desk,...
written by Hilltop Production Team, July 20, 2009

We invite those of you who have yet to see our first musical to reserve your tickets today!

Come check us out!

Best wishes,
Harrison Hilltop Theatre
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
Another Green Room?, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Adam Peters, July 20, 2009
I haven't seen the production yet... but I'll be going this Thursday. To "THEATRE FAN #2"- Your snide comment about "being another Green Room" is irrelevant and rude. No matter how dreadful this particular musical (I'm hoping it was just opening night willies) may have been... it should be applauded that people like Tapscott, Walljasper, Quartell, and Bleecker are willing to completely write off our nation's economic state and produce what is usually high quality theater and to keep offering it to a hungry community of theater lovers. Props to them.

Alaina Pascarella
written by Alaina Pascarella, July 20, 2009
I have yet to see tick, tick...BOOM; however, I felt it necessary to defend the job of a reviewer in general. To No Thanks, a reviewer should give an honest and sometimes critical review of a production. It's true that you may not always like what the reviewer has to say, but to be critical of a production and what the reviewer saw as its flaws is not unprofessional; it's part of the job. When things go wrong in a production or if actors are making choices that seem out of place to the reviewer, he/she should comment on it. It's not about a personal vendetta. Not to mention, that with any production, the buck stops with the director. As I have not been able to see the production myself, I cannot comment specifically on the actors' performances. Lewis and Pelzer-Timm are actors who I have enjoyed seeing in productions previously and probably will again. The reviewer is stating his opinion. It is great that you have your own opinion on the production, but you should also respect that the reviewer has a right to his own opinion. It has been my experience that this particular reviewer has been fair in the past in his reviews of shows, even shows that he may not have an appreciation for going into them(i.e. Neil Simon plays, his review of The Odd Couple for Harrison Hilltop was a good one). To me, it seems asinine to accuse a reviewer of bias because of a bad review.
written by No thanks, July 20, 2009
To Alaina Pascarella-

I agree with you that it is a reviewer's job to give his or her opinion on a show. However, I think there is an extreme difference between giving one's opinion, and making a personal attack. He didn't have to like the show, that's not my issue, my issue is that this review is extremely offensive. While yes I did give my thoughts on Lewis and the production as a whole, I'm not trying to force those ideas on him. However, I do think his lengthy dissection of Lewis's work, and neglect of the other two actors was a little ridiculous. I'm not saying that the reviewer had to like the show, but he could have written a more tasteful piece. He could have found a way to put down the production while leaving out his shrewd and asinine comments. There are many other ways to state what was said in a much more professional manner, especially during the last paragraph. To me this does not seem like any ordinary negative review. If you think it's perfectly fine to publicly and professional write this way, then I am sorry.
Come celebrate with us!
written by Tristan, July 20, 2009
Come see for yourself! We are proud of the production and invite you to make your own opinions! Let's stop the trash-talk... (Mike did enough!)... and let's move on! Hope to see you this weekend!
written by James Effing, July 20, 2009
I agree! Come see a quad cities premiere at the Harrison Hilltop Theatre! Show's July 23-26 and a special discount closing matinee on the 26th! Come check it out and write your very own review on this page!
written by Emily, July 21, 2009
I saw the show Sunday afternoon, and while I agree with Mike that there were some pitch issues and character choices that didn't work for me, I still enjoyed the show very much. Tick Tick Boom is one of my favorite musicals, and I was very excited to see it performed locally.
written by Alaina , July 22, 2009
To No Thanks-

Just curious when the last time you read a review that was not published in a local paper. I do understand that this isn't NYC, but theater reviews in the New York Times are, at times, way more vicious than this review was. A review should be a critical analysis of the production that the reviewer saw. I'm glad that you enjoyed the show and disagreed with some of his analysis, but the review is only one man's opinion. Sometimes those opinions are harsh.
written by Harrison Hilltop Theatre, July 23, 2009
Adam Lewis powers Harrison's Tick
QC Times - David Burke

Harrison Hilltop Theatre's "Tick, Tick ... Boom!" is perhaps more of a tour de force for Adam Lewis than his own autobiographical one-man show at the same location last winter.

Lewis is a natural with the smart-mouthed, acidic humor of composer Jonathan Larson, this rock musical's author and hero, but Lewis adds to that the anguish of a stalled career, the heartbreak of love lost and found, and the despair of turning 30, circa 1990 in New York City.

Larson, of course, went onto success with the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical "Rent," and Harrison Hilltop - which is staging "Rent" in April - is serving this up as a theatrical appetizer. Larson died the night before "Rent's" off-Broadway premiere, and that sense of mortal foreboding seeps its way into "Tick," which tells of his life prior to "Rent."

Lewis' Jon is a frustrated Broadway composer, wanting not just to get a show produced, but also to have, in his words, "a musical that will galvanize a generation."

Tracy Pelzer-Timm and Michael Crowe play various other characters in Larson's life, most notably his girlfriend and longtime best friend, respectively.

Pelzer-Timm is strong and beguiling as Susan, a dance teacher who gives Jon an ultimatum to grow up. Crowe - who recently graduated from high school - shows maturity as a fellow 30-year-old who gave up a life in theater for a job in market research (something that Jon fails at hilariously).

Director Tristan Tapscott and musical director Chris Walljasper create a show that's both intimate and expansive. A two-level representational set allows the three actors to run at sometimes-breakneck paces with a piano keyboard as the only constant on the set.

"Tick, Tick ... Boom!" which Jon says represents the internal countdown in his mind, is a smart, enjoyable evening of theater.
written by Harrison Hilltop Theatre, July 23, 2009
Emotional Larson musical is a precursor to 'Rent'

By Jonathan Turner / Dispatch

In roughly 377,280 minutes, Jonathan Larson's hugely popular musical "Rent" will make its local community-theater debut – at Harrison Hilltop Theatre, Davenport.

For a tantalizing preview in the meantime, check out Mr. Larson's frenetic, touching and tuneful "tick, tick ... BOOM!" at the Hilltop.

Adam Lewis is terrific as Jon – the neurotic, frantic, intelligent and endearing composer telling his own dreams of being Broadway-bound, idealistic and cynical at the same time.

The tale behind "tick" is even more jarringly dramatic than what's on stage in this three-person show – the Hilltop's 14th production already in a busy first year, and its first musical.

"Tick'' was conceived as a one-man show performed by Mr. Larson in 1990. The title and its opening number ("30/90") refer to the mounting anxiety he feels as his 30th birthday approaches.

The musical did not take its current form until after the dazzling success of "Rent," the ambitious, sprawling work that took inspiration from the opera "La Boheme."

On Jan. 25, 1996, the night before the first New York Theater Workshop preview of "Rent," Mr. Larson died of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm at 35. The success he desperately longs for in "tick" -- revitalizing Broadway with real rock, and literate, real-life stories of New York's gritty urban dwellers and artists – only came posthumously.

"Rent" moved to Broadway in April 1996, won a Pulitzer Prize and three Tony Awards, including best musical, and became the eighth-longest-running show in Broadway history. A 2005 film starring many of the original cast.

After Mr. Larson's death, David Auburn, author of the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning ''Proof,'' restructured "tick, tick...BOOM" as a work for three performers – Jon, his best friend Michael, and girlfriend Susan. It was produced off-Broadway in 2001.

Its 11 songs (arranged by Stephen Oremus) display the wit, bite, pulsing urgency and open-hearted compassion that became trademarks of "Rent." Its second-act showstopper, "Come to Your Senses," is from Mr. Larson's "Superbia" -- a futuristic rock retelling of "1984."

Tracy Pelzer-Timm, who plays several roles in the Hilltop production, tears the roof off with this very powerful, earthy and sensual song.

Much of "Tick"'s plot concerns plans for the "Superbia" workshop, which is attended by Mr. Larson's idol, composer Stephen Sondheim. Jon is so in awe of the master's talents that he can't speak his name aloud.

A highlight comes in a restaurant scene where Jon waits tables during a Sunday brunch. The clever "Sunday" is a spot-on homage to Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park With George" ("... in a small SoHo cafe, on an island in two rivers ...").

Mr. Lewis captures the frustration and panic of his role. At times, he's like a playful puppy, with tireless energy. Mostly, he's confused, nervous, perceptive, loud, and scared of being alone. He clearly has a love/hate relationship with Broadway.

He's trying to create something new and revolutionary at a time when spectacular London musicals ruled and the country was "stodgy, complacent and unimaginative." Jon calls Broadway a "raging commercial whore " that he views with a mix of disgust and envy. Is he too good for it?

As the more serene, stable Michael, Michael Crowe provides an oasis of calm and a sympathetic ear for Jon. It's a sweet, warm performance as a former actor who has a successful, well-paying job in market research, a BMW and a large, upscale apartment.

Ms. Pelzer-Timm is an alluring muse for her composer boyfriend, but they argue over where their life is headed. She is strong in each character, including the boisterous agent Rosa and the flirtatious actress Karessa, effortlessly and quickly switching among them.

Director Tristan Tapscott wisely has expanded the blocking possibilities of the intimate space and opens it up in a big way. There are two rows of steps leading up to a second level, just below the 14-foot-high ceiling. That gives plenty of space for the actors to roam.

The musical accompaniment (piano, drums, guitar and bass) was prerecorded by Sound & Vision Studios, Moline, and works well. Mr. Tapscott said he plans to use live musicians when Hilltop does "Rent" next April.

The moving birthday scene at the close of "tick, tick ... BOOM!" is given special poignancy by the real-life tragedy. What Mr. Larson could have accomplished after "Rent" is something we can only dream of. -- If you go -- What: "tick, tick ... BOOM!"

-- When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

-- Where: Harrison Hilltop Theatre, 1601 Harrison St., Davenport.

-- Tickets: $16; call (309) 235-1654 or visit for reservations.
written by Steve- Director of Marketing for Harrison Hilltop, July 23, 2009
Two comments have been posted under our name "Harrison Hilltop Theatre". This person, thinking in the best interests of the theatre, posted reviews of Tick, Tick... BOOM! from other press outlets. We have spoken with Mike and requested that the comments be removed from the site as they do not reflect how we intend to represent our selves or engage the press.

Thank You- now go get some free breakfast at Chick-Fil-A,
Steve Quartell
Harrison Hilltop Theatre/Director of Marketing and Development
Well Done
written by Louis J. Hare, July 23, 2009
Saw the show tonight and thought it was WAY better than what Mike describes. I particularly thought that Adam Lewis was as good as I've ever seen him. Congrats to all involved!

While I 100 percent agree with you that a reviewer should give their honest opinion, even if it is negative, there is a world of difference between QC theatre and NYC theatre. Most reviews you would read in the NYT are of professional theatres, where people are paid big bucks and charge big bucks for their productions. Most of the QC theatres are community theatres, involving people who do this for the sheer fun or love of it. That's not to say that a reviewer shouldn't be honest, but maybe there are a few more things to consider when wording one's review.
I understand the difference
written by Alaina, July 23, 2009

I do understand the difference between QC theater and NYC theater (although there are reviews in the NYT for smaller theaters that are Off Broadway or Off Off Broadway which do not pay big bucks nor charge it); I also understand the impulse to be less overly critical because of that. However, speaking as a performer, I personally would rather that a reviewer be brutally honest instead of giving false praise or sugar-coating his/her experience. How else can we learn and grow as actors, directors, etc if our shortfalls are not pointed out? A reviewer should be fair and feel free to tell it like he/she sees it without being accused of personal bias.
I agree
written by Louis J. Hare, July 24, 2009
I totally agree and as a performer or director I would want the same things as well. I guess the debate is how "harsh" a critic when they don't like a show. I think it is possible and necessary for the writer to be critical and give one's honest opinion. That doesn't mean they give false praise (which happens too frequently in this area IMHO), it just means they choose their words carefully.
written by About Time, July 24, 2009
I have to applaud Mike for giving an honest review that isn't full of fluff and sunshine. Most every review that I've read of theater in the Quad Cities has been unrealistically and ,often times, disturbingly positive. I appreciate reviewers that have high expectations and aren't willing to compromise on those expectations, even if this is NYC, as some of you have pointed out. Even the few reviews that I've seen that have contained a critical note or two have been ridiculously vague and apologetic as if they didn't want to hurt the feelings of a dear friend. Feelings get hurt in theater, it's inevitable. It is their jobs to be critics, not to be a preschool teacher and tell everyone how amazing they are.
written by Psych, July 24, 2009
No Thanks, et al,
Considering these are (as mentioned in the piece) among Mike's very good, long-time friends, it would seem unlikely that he would just "trash" them without any rationale (ie: what he saw/heard really happened that way). That premise alone belies your basic thesis.

I think it speaks to his integrity that he wrote the review at all, considering that. And I agree and applaud those who see the value of not having sunshine blown up their asses.

I'm sure it broke his heart a little, considering how much he loves the QC theatre community and the people in it, to both have a performance come off this poorly, as well as to have to write about it. As in so many things, a little empathy, even for things/people you disagree with (maybe especially for) can go a long way toward expanding understanding. To wit, if you don't think Mike empathized with the actors/director, etc, then I don't think you're reading very carefully. I can literally HEAR him trying to get these people SOME credit. Obviously the off elements were so off for Mike, that they dominate the review. But he gave out what props he could, I'm sure.

Mike wrote a reasoned, impartial (other than to his own opinion/perception/interpretation) review. All you're doing is basically bitching about that. Your cause would be much better served by writing an as-well-reasoned, positive (or however you saw it) review, including citations and examples, as in the original. anything else is just the lazy way out.
Missed the point
written by ditto, July 24, 2009
It seems as though most people up in arms over this article have missed the point. This isn't review that's bashing Lewis it's calling for better direction. He's up there taking risks and it's up to the director to be his eyes and let him know when he's gone to far. This review is clearly meant as a call for Tapscott and Walljasper to step it up. Good job guys, now before we get too proud of ourselves, could we take it up a notch. You've relied on actors like Staver, Lewis, and Bleeker who are good enough to show up on any show and rock the house. But even guys like that can only get so far without real guidance. They've put on good shows but not great ones and what's been holding them back is a lack of direction and artistic vision. I hope their response to this review is not just "Mikes wrong!" Hopefully, it sparks a re-evaluation of their process and priorities and strong desire to improve. These two have done a lot for Quad City theatre by starting this company and they have worked their asses off in the process. They deserve a tremendous amount over applause for that. But they're both still young and have a great deal they can improve upon. This will only happen if they listen to the real critics.
Come see the show!
written by HARRISON HILLTOP THEATRE, July 25, 2009
2:30 P.M.
ONLY $14
Come check it out!

We realize some of you haven't seen the show... so please join us in celebrating our first anniversary! Ditto... Psych... About Time... HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!

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