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Tick, Tick… BOOM!: a stunning musical that navigates love, ambition, and fear but leaves the most important questions unanswered.

December 12, 2021

On Jonathan Larson’s road to clocking 30, the creative genius contends with the weight of ambition, the ambiguity of love, and pessimism.


This year, we got to sit amongst the virtual seats of several musicals, such as In The Heights, Annette, Dear Evan Hansen, Diana, and more. I can begin this piece by drawing comparisons, but that will be a gross level of ridicule to Lin Manuel Miranda’s sensational adaptation of the work of late Broadway legend Jonathan Larson, whom this emotional drama is based upon.

As the title denotes, Tick, Tick… BOOM! wastes no time in delving into the heart and core of its story, as an electrifying performance reels us into the musical’s first act. The upbeat pop rhythms are either accompanied by heavy metal rock and melancholic ballad that highlights ‘coming of age’ anxiety while carrying the weight of unlikely ambitions.

Tick, Tick… BOOM!: a stunning musical that navigates love, ambition, and fear but leaves the most important questions unanswered.

With a screenplay by Steven Levenson, the musical drama is portrayed on double fronts. The first is the intimate performance by Academy award winner and former friendly neighborhood superhero ‘Andrew Garfield’. Then, on an illuminated stage beheld by an unseen audience, a Jonathan Larson that has been through the plot narrates his success or failure that the audience will have to wait to the end to discover. The second is the actual story that expands from Jonathan to the friends, relationships, and the world he is surrounded by.

Set in New York during the industrial boom in the late 90s at the same time HIV/AIDS ravaged the American public. The scenarios surrounding Jonathan affect him, his creative ambition, and the people closest to him. First is his best friend Roger(Robin de Jesus), who struggles with the social acceptance of being gay in a conservative era. Second is his girlfriend Susan(Alexandra Shipp), a once aspiring ballet dancer who resorted to corporate America while desiring a blissful relationship with Jonathan. Meanwhile, Jonathan wants to chase his ambitions to the ends of the earth, even if it means he has to choose to jump and fly or settle and drown.

This point in Jonathan’s arc shifts our attention from the story and forces the audience to take an introspective examination. As our aspiration for certain achievements soars, as our ambition to succeed remains unquenchable, we have to choose what must be burnt to attain it, and we are left to imagine if it will be worth it in the end regardless of the outcome. The assertive one-liner Jonathan screams into a microphone above the piano keys summarizes the dilemma in a sentence, “Ambition eats right through you!”.

Tick, Tick… BOOM!: a stunning musical that navigates love, ambition, and fear but leaves the most important questions unanswered.

Jonathan must focus on his rise to Broadway, maintain a relationship with Susan, check up on sick friends or write songs for workshops. Sadly, Jonny doesn’t even get to make these choices because he has to maintain a shift at a waiting job that keeps the roof over his head. Here, the 29-year-old songwriter comes to terms no one but him understands what it means to be an artist. However, amidst the chaos, Jonathan Larson finds solace in the music. And satisfactorily so as perceived in the ‘SUNDAY’ rendition in the mid-Act.

Aside from the intriguing plot, the audience is hooked on the premise; another score Tick, Tick… BOOM! Checks are the supporting cast it leans on. Robin de Jesus(Michael), Joshua Henry(Roger), Judy Kuha(Nan) and High school musical Alumni ‘Vanessa Hugdens’ whom Andrew Garfield brilliantly duets on stage simultaneously as Jonathan and Susan have their final confrontation in the last act, contributes to the film’s rewatch value.

Tick, Tick… BOOM! has no particular big-bad entity as the antagonist as seen in Annette, [Oops, I compared!], but in a way, it does. Except for in Tick, Tick… BOOM! The antagonist for the main and side characters is inanimate, ‘Time’. The world is just a few years away from a new era in the 2000s; the death toll from an immune virus keeps rising, forcing everyone in this story to live while they can.

After Jonathan receives the news his best friend is HIV positive, he hoes on a rampage on how everything failed to turn out the way it was meant to. He attempts to physically outrun the harsh realities of life and adulthood shortly before he takes solace in writing songs again. Realizing the present moment is all that matters.

The inspirational true-life story based on a true cinema legend, combined with appealing close range cinematography and superb melodic delivery of titles, should definitely see Tick, Tick… BOOM! vying for prominent recognitions.

The heartening story connects many hidden sour spots in the emotional cores of the audience. Yet, it leaves Millennials, young adults, and aspiring artists with more figurative questions than answers before the musical ends on a crescendo.

Why do we play with fire? Why do we run our hands through the flame? Why do we refuse to turn on the lights when the streets are dangerous. Why does it take an accident for us to be careful? Why should? We try to be our best when we can just get by and still gain. Why do we nod our heads, although we know the boss is wrong as rain. Why do we stay with lovers when we know they aren’t right. Why would we pull ourselves through hell, then sleep alone at night? Why do we follow leaders who never lead? Why does it take a catastrophe for a revolution to begin

Which should we prefer, Cages or wings? Fear or Love?

Israel Olorunnisola is a freelance creative. When he is not writing about Film, Music, TV or Pop culture he is telling stories on Wattpad.


Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.

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