Theater Review: tick, tick…BOOM! gives the struggling artist a fighting chance

If you feel a bit lost or you're about to turn 30, this musical is a must-see.


( A little backstory for those who do not know: Before he created the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning musical Rent, Jonathan Larson wrote tick, tick...BOOM!, his semi-autobiographical musical that talks about his days as a struggling artist. He had been trying to establish himself in the theater scene since the early ’80s, and after completing tick, tick...BOOM!, he performed it as a rock monologue in 1990. And after almost giving up on his lifelong dream, his musical Rent was finally scheduled to premiere off-Broadway.


But tragedy struck on the morning of January 26, 1996, on what was supposed to be the first preview show of Rent. Larson was found dead in his apartment from an apparent case of undiagnosed Marfan syndrome. He didn’t get to witness Rent becoming a smash hit and tick, tick...BOOM! getting revamped into a three-actor show in 1996.




In celebration of Rent’s 20th anniversary this year, 9 Works Theatrical brought together three of the brightest Filipino theater actors for the Manila run of tick, tick...BOOM!—Jef Flores as Jon, Ariel Reonal as Michael, and Tanya Manalang as Susan.


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The plot will surely pull the heartstrings of the struggling creative, whether you’re caught in a quarter-life crisis, a mid-life crisis, or in the case of Jon, something in between. He is about to turn 30 and is still trying to figure out what to do with his life. He works as a waiter in a New York restaurant to make ends meet while pursuing music on the side, hoping that his rock musical Superbia will eventually get picked up by the big names in Broadway, most specifically his idol, Stephen Sondheim.




His best friend Michael grew up performing with Jon but eventually gave it up for a more steady and lucrative corporate job. Michael is urging Jon to ditch his Broadway dreams for corporate America. Jon’s girlfriend Susan wants him to move in with her to Cape Cod, raise a family, and pursue a more stable career. But Jonathan isn’t ready to abandon his dreams. This line sums up the feels: “I want to write music. I want to sit down right now at my piano and write a song that people will listen to and remember, and do the same thing every morning for the rest of my life.” All you have to do is replace “write music” with any other verb phrase that describes the struggling creative’s lifelong passion and you have the ultimate hugot line.



Gawad Buhay Awardee Jef Flores proves that he’s more than just a theater heartthrob. His ability to hold the audience throughout the 90-minute show without any breaks or exits for his character shows his stamina as an actor. It also helps that he depicts a certain charm that makes him an easily likeable lead actor.




While the chemistry between Jef and Tanya falls short during the press preview, the actors make up for it in terms of their comedic timing and vocal prowess, especially on the part of Miss Saigon alum Tanya, who played Jon’s girlfriend Susan, musical actress Karessa, and a slew of other support characters.




As for Ariel, he almost steals the show whenever he switches from one comic character to another, on top of breathing life into Michael, who we won’t exactly call a sellout for choosing the corporate world over acting. His character gives justice to people who are truly happy with their life-changing decision to go corporate.



The musical score will remind you of Rent, and it will give you alternative LSS hits if you need a break from Larson’s “525,600 minutes.” Standout song numbers include “Therapy,” “Come To Your Senses,” and “Why?”




With only three actors and a big stage to fill, scenographer Mio Infante created a chandelier of half-circles, which, according to executive producer Santi Santamaria, represents life’s twister of thoughts. Add that to the incessant sound of the clock ticking throughout the play, and we could empathize with the anxiety Jon is going through. 


If you’re a struggling artist or about to turn 30, we urge you to see this musical. Whether you’ve already made a life-changing decision or are still torn, tick, tick...BOOM! will give you something to sing about.


tick, tick...BOOM! runs on October 8, 9, 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23, 2016, at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3:30 p.m. on Sundays at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, 4/F Yuchengco Tower, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue cor Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati City. Tickets are available at Ticketworld.


Photos by Zai Boongaling. Official posters courtesy of 9 Works Theatrical.

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