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On turning 30 and coming of age through ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’

On turning 30 and coming of age through ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’

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  • Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical speaks loudly to this generation of creatives
tick tick boom photo by reine bantang

When we talk about coming of age, the image often involves teenagers enjoying the rush and recklessness of youth. Rarely is it about young adults struggling to make a living, paying taxes, living in a creaking apartment, and contemplating whether they’re getting too old for their dreams. 

But in this newly minted 30-year-old’s opinion, this unglamorous picture is exactly what coming of age feels like. So that’s why I’d like to call “Tick, Tick… Boom!” a coming-of-age story.

We’ve all been there: The young adult life crisis. The looming pressure of the big 3-0. Thinking that at this age, our parents have already settled down, established their roots, and figured life out. So we should, too. Then we get the birthday blues. Another year has passed. Where is my life going? Is this really the path I want to pursue? Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Did I make the right decisions? Have I just been wasting my youth?

Jon, the protagonist of “Tick, Tick… Boom!” ponders the very same questions right off the bat. He tells us that he’s been hearing a ticking sound in his head. Tick, tick, tick… followed by booms in the distance, getting closer and closer—closer as the days to his 30th birthday draw near.

tick tick boom photo by reine bantang
“Tick… tick… tick…” Jef Flores as Jon

“Tick, Tick… Boom!” is a three-hander musical adapted from the autobiographical rock monologue of the late Jonathan Larson, the creator of one of the most iconic musicals to date, “Rent.” It follows Jon, on the cusp of turning 30, as he struggles to finish and mount a musical he has been working on for the past five years. It not only explores his artistry, it also fleshes out the relationships, sacrifices, and compromises involved when one passionately chooses to pursue one’s dreams.

But even if you didn’t just turn 30, or even if you’re not struggling to put words and music to paper, “Tick, Tick… Boom!” is still a remarkable piece of theater brought to life by a stellar three-piece cast.

Local theater production company 9 Works Theatrical first staged “Tick, Tick… Boom!” in 2016. For their post-pandemic comeback, the company has decided to bring back this beloved musical, transforming it into an even more awe-inspiring production. This year’s restaging, which runs until Sept. 3, features a bigger cast—six actors, alternating for the musical’s three roles. 

Jef Flores plays Jon again in this run, coming back to the role after seven years. He alternates with Khalil Ramos, who is making his theater debut with the production. Tanya Manalang-Atadero also reprises her role as Susan, a dancer, and Jon’s girlfriend. She shares the role with Kayla Rivera. Meanwhile, the role of Michael, Jon’s best friend, is played by Reb Atadero and Vien King.

Flores fits perfectly into the role of Jon, capturing the young composer’s passion and bouts of frantic energy. 

This musical has also been a wonderful showcase of Atadero’s and Manalang’s phenomenal talent. The two, while playing the main roles of Jon’s best friend and girlfriend respectively, also juggle several other characters, seamlessly and masterfully transitioning from Sunday brunch diner customers to fellow waiters, to store clerk, to market research participants, to Jon’s agent, to Jon’s parents. 

Atadero is particularly noteworthy, his handle on various voices, tones, and mannerisms making us follow along with his various characters in each scene. He makes us laugh with his take on the kooky counter guy ringing up Jon’s Twinkies, then makes us weep too as Michael breaks down upon learning of his battle with AIDS

tick tick boom photo by reine bantang
Sometimes our pursuit of dreams will leave some of our loved ones feeling alienated. It doesn’t have to be that way, but unfortunately for Susan (portrayed here by Tanya Manalang-Atadero), it does happen.
tick tick boom photo by reine bantang
Reb Atadero plays Michael, Jon’s best friend. Michael previously tried to pursue acting, but now works a well-paying marketing job.
Jon (Jef Flores) has spent the last five years of his life writing a futuristic rock musical called “Superbia.” (At this time, rock musicals were not a thing.)

With “Tick, Tick… Boom!” being a musical about a man making a musical, it employs so much theatrics in the simplest but most efficient ways—three actors, with two of them carrying the bulk of the “ensemble” work, one major set, with half the stage moving to make space for other “locations” in the story—and when Jon’s musical, “Superbia,” opens, the entire audience, for a moment, becomes part of the show, too. 

Speaking of the set: Seemingly simple at first glance, it later visually and physically translates the inner turmoil that Jon experiences upon learning that his best friend’s days may be numbered. Scenographer Mio Infante’s work on this set shift got a satisfying collective reaction from the audience—this writer included.

Aside from the actors being so engaging that they really draw us into Jon’s journey, it’s also incredibly validating to watch because so many of the things I’ve personally grappled with on the road to 30 are themes within the musical. This, I suppose, goes to show that whether it’s 1990 or 2023, whether you’re in the United States or in the Philippines, some coming-of-age experiences are universal.

Time is a huge theme in “Tick, Tick… Boom!” And it’s definitely something we constantly try to make sense of as young adults. 

We often live with the pressure of having to achieve so much at a young age—because those who came before us were able to do it. But of course, these are different times. And what both the show and life have shown me is that it’s okay to not have it all figured out by 30. Often, 30 is the beginning—it’s actually only when we start to really learn our lessons. And that’s fine.

The three characters also show us that even if we’re seemingly all in the same boat, we all have our own paths to take and timelines to go through. My pace will never be the same as the next person’s, so we shouldn’t compare. Nevertheless, we should continue to try. In the same vein, we have to remember that we make choices based on what feels right for us. We can’t judge others—nor should we judge ourselves—for how different our paths are.

Jon, who turns 30 receiving a life-changing call from his idol Stephen Sondheim, is also proof that sometimes life really just surprises us. Just when we think we’re at the end of the line, we’ll find that whatever we’ve put work in will eventually, in some way, pay off. Persistence pays off.

Jon and Karessa, the lead actress in his musical.

Most striking for me though is the resounding message in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” that… we have time. And we don’t. And that is both comforting and terrifying. 

Andreiana Yuvallos, Nolisoli’s content creator who watched the show with me (and cried along with me during Jon’s birthday, too) puts it perfectly: “At its core, ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ is a reminder to live every day to the fullest but also slow down and spend important moments with the people that matter. [It’s] for the dreamers who spent all their lives racing against the clock. It’s a reminder that it’s not bad to stop and smell the roses, and giving up is the worst offense you can make against yourself.”

So pursue that idea while you can. Grab the opportunities while you can. Try, try, try—even the wildest dreams, so that at least by the end, whether it works out or not, you can say you did it. 

While you‘re at it, make the people who matter to you know that they do, while you can, while they’re there. 

“Jon is a reminder of how even the most naturally talented people need help to be the best they can be. You can’t do everything alone,” Andrei adds. So find and cherish those people. Surround yourself with people who support you. Life is difficult enough as it is, so make sure the ones you’re sharing the journey with are people who’ll make it richer. People who will speak your name in places filled with opportunities, even if you’re not there, like Michael. People who, even if you eventually decide to walk separate paths, will still wish you well on yours, like Susan. And people who can inspire you to persist, much like our very own Jon.

9 Works Theatrical’s “Tick, Tick… Boom!” runs until Sept. 3 at the RCBC Theater. Starring Jef Flores, Reb Atadero, Tanya Manalang-Atadero, Khalil Ramos, Kayla Rivera, and Vien King. Directed by Robbie Guevara, with choreography by JM Cabling and musical direction by Daniel Bartolome.

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