BY MEREDITH GANZMAN (@MGANZMAN)
“Has turning 30 always sucked?” Jonathan asks in Tick, Tick…Boom! I don’t know. But as I personally prepare for this milestone birthday in less than two months, it is a question I continue to ask.
Tick, Tick…Boom! is Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Larson’s precursor to Rent. Larson’s autobiographical musical opens with the sound of a ticking clock, or really the sound of growing anxiety, according to the character of Jonathan. It’s Saturday night in Jonathan’s apartment in SoHo and he’s a struggling musical composer). One week before he turns 30, Jonathan is seated at the piano trying to get some work done – but instead wonders why he can’t just stay 29 years old.
Nick Blaemire, also a musical writer, aptly takes on Jonathan. The lyricist and composer of one of Broadway’s more infamous productions, Glory Days, which opened in 2008 and closed the same night after 17 previews and one official performance on Broadway. As with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also played the role in 2014’s City Center Encores! Off-Center production, a writer taking on the role of Jonathan certainly lends an authenticity to the performance. Who can better understand the massive undertaking and constant battle to create art better than those who actually do?
Alongside Jonathan is his girlfriend Susan (Ciara Renèe), an aspiring dancer and teacher and best friend Michael (George Salazar), who left acting behind for an executive research and marketing job. Renèe, most recently seen on television’s DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, skillfully belts Larson’s “Come to Your Senses” as an actress in Jonathon’s workshop production. Renèe and Salazar both also play numerous supporting characters from Jonathon’s father to customers at a diner and even a corner store cashier. But the actors are more comfortable switching through these parts than as their own characters. By the show’s finale “Louder Than Words,” Salazar does find himself as Michael, beating his chest in this emotional number.
Larson originally performed Tick, Tick…Boom! off-off-Broadway as a “rock monologue.” The performance attracted a then novice theatre producer, Jeffrey Seller, who would become integral in producing his masterwork, Rent, for Broadway. Larson died on January 25, 1996 of an aortic dissection. That night Rent officially premiered off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop. Later, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for Proof, David Auburn, reshaped Tick, Tick…Boom! into a three actor musical, premiering off-Broadway in May 2001.
Larson’s portrait of an artist “finishing the hat” (Stephen Sondheim was both Larson’s mentor and Jonathan’s role model in the show), holds up in a very different theatrical landscape. A Broadway show then cost $50, Jonathan says.
But even more so, Tick, Tick…Boom! is an opportunity to hear the predecessor and perhaps inspiration to the music of Rent. “Maybe I really have written the show that will reinvent musicals for our generation,” Jonathan says. And indeed Larson did. More than 30 years ago, who would have known how Rent would change musical theatre and usher a way for composers like Miranda and shows like Hamilton. You can only imagine how much more incredible music Larson might have shared.
Like Rent, Tick, Tick…Boom! reminds us that time, though fleeting, “ticks” on, and to spend it doing and working on what you love, rather than trapped wondering what will happen when the clock strikes midnight and your twenties have officially flown past.
Tick, Tick…Boom! is directed by Jonathan Silverstein and playing from the Keen Company at the Acorn Theatre in Theatre Row through November 20.