I have a Renthead bucket list. I was fourteen the first time I heard Rent, and it (stereotypically) changed my life. Not only did I adopt the “No Day But Today” philosophy of life, but I started being an activist, eventually volunteering for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I still do when I’m in the area and there’s something going on.
I was always attached to Jonathan Larson specifically. I was heartbroken by his story. He was a struggling playwright, and Rent was his big break. He died the night before it opened. This man had such a huge impact on not just my life, but so many lives, and the entire idea of what a musical could look like.
His show, Tick, Tick… BOOM, was written several years before he had even considered Rent. The show is an autobiographical tale of turning thirty and the fears that go along with it. It shows Jonathan Larson’s fear of never achieving greatness. The soundtrack, from the 2001 Off-Broadway production featuring Raul Esparza, breaks my heart every time I listen to it. One thing I thought I’d never get to cross off my bucket list though, was actually seeing a production. Well, it happened. And it was spectacular.
This production of Tick, Tick… BOOM featured Lin Manuel Miranda, creator of In The Heights, Karen Olivo, of In The Heights and West Side Story fame, and Leslie Odom Jr., most recently seen on Broadway in Leap of Faith.
I was really apprehensive of Lin Manuel Miranda playing Jonathan. He has a very distinct style, and I was worried he would try and put his own spin on the role. He did not. I was also worried he’d struggle with the music. Jonathan Larson wrote really difficult tunes, and Tick, Tick… BOOM is no exception. While Miranda did struggle with a few notes, they were easy to forgive. He struggled towards the beginning of the show, and the more he got into it, the more he forgot his nerves and opened up. You could definitely tell if he had had more than a few weeks training, he would have been stellar. What made this perfect for him is that he is a young playwright as well. At the stage door, he spoke about going through some of the same experiences as Larson with the same people.
Karen Olivo killed this role. In the Playbill, there was an interview where she talked about her personal life, and it also mirrors that of her character. Olivo recently moved to Wisconsin to try and find happiness away from the spotlight. Susan, her character, is trying to convince Johnny to move to Cape Cod to lead more ordinary lives.
It would be an understatement to say I cried through this whole thing. I bawled. The show is beautiful in its telling of Jonathan Larson’s life, as well as the fears associated with growing up, and lifestyle choices. The actors were perfectly chosen, the lighting was just right, the staging was better than what I’ve seen of the Off-Broadway production. The lack of set was such a great choice for this show. Most of the stage was taken up by the band, and what wasn’t was filled in a very Rent-like way.
So thank you to the cast, crew, and band of Tick, Tick… BOOM. You brought Jonathan Larson back to life for me.