‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ a beacon of hope

Characters in ”Tick, Tick … Boom!” are forced to consider the impracticality of careers in the music industry.
Characters in ”Tick, Tick … Boom!” are forced to consider the impracticality of careers in the music industry. Photo by Kyle Picha.

In the season of suits and job interviews, the latest show at the Calhoun Cabaret has a response to students’ career woes: To hell with practicality.

This is the takeaway from Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical “Tick, Tick … Boom!”, which he wrote before bursting onto Broadway with “Rent.” Set in New York City circa the early 1990s, “Tick, Tick … Boom!”, which opens tonight, explores Larson’s life as a struggling artist. The lead character Johnny, who represents Larson, faces an internal struggle with which many Yale students can identify — he hears a ticking clock and realizes that he must choose between the “impractical” path of music composition and a higher paying career. Jack O’Reilly ’13, who plays Johnny, said that “Tick, Tick… Boom!” forces characters to come to terms with what life will bring based on these decisions, and portrays the societal pressure 20 and 30-somethings face as they pursue stable careers, even when they must surrender their passions to do so.

Laurel German ’15, the show’s producer, said she struggled with the idea of pursuing a career in theater, ultimately deciding to let go of that dream.

“It is an issue that is very close to home. I went through all the same questions from a different angle,” she said.

Director Gabrielle Hoyt-Disick ’15 said this production of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” comes at a time when art programs around the country are constantly under the threat of budget cuts. Art education has become a lower priority in light of the national emphasis on science and technology over the last decade, Hoyt-Disick explained, adding that society needs to be reminded of the importance of the arts.

“This play is just so much about what art can do,” Disick said.

As a window into Larson’s artistic development, “Tick, Tick … Boom!” gives hope to those who have never given up their childhood dreams of life onstage, said Kyle Picha ’14, who plays Johnny’s friend Michael. Though the musical portrays Johnny as a struggling artist and is not wildly successful itself, the audience is aware of Larson’s later success with “Rent,” Picha added.

“In the musical, he fails to do what he wants to do, but he sets himself up to start anew,” Picha said. “It’s a story of falling and getting back up. Had he stopped, we wouldn’t have ‘Rent.’”

Picha said that he is comfortable pursuing a career in music, even though he recognizes that he may spend his first few years out of college working at a low paying job. Picha said his character Michael “sells out,” trading in his actor’s garb for a three-piece suit and a place in the “faceless New York corporate enterprise” — a choice Michael later regrets.

“Tick, Tick … Boom!” is, of course, grounded in more than moral lessons and social commentary. Hoyt-Disick said it is ultimately a “rock concert,” and, like rock musicians, the characters run around and slide across the floor and jump atop props on the stage.

The first production of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” opened in 2001.

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