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Tick, Tick...Boom! Explodes Into Song

Grand Rapids Circle Theatre stages late composer Jonathan Larson’s musical.

/Grand Rapids Circle Theatre

In high school, faced with yet another rejection slip, I hit upon what seemed to me an irresistible idea: write a poem about rejection on the back of the slip and submit it. The editor to whom I’d sent the first poem rejected that one, too. The problem, in retrospect, was that my poems weren’t any good. 

Tick, Tick…Boom! isn’t a poem written on the back of a rejection slip, but it’s not not that. Tick, Tick…Boom! is about Jonathan Larson, a talented and ambitious young New York City playwright trying to get a musical called Superbia off the ground. 

In Grand Rapids Circle Theatre’s production, showing now through June 1, Larson (Lucas Story) is fighting the clock. He’s about to turn 30, and what does he have to show for it? A beautiful girlfriend; a close friendship with a good man; youth; vitality; and talent. But none of that matters, or matters enough, anyway. 

His dream of being a well-respected playwright doesn’t seem to be panning out. The show opener, “30/90,” dramatizes that frustration. Is it self-absorbed, even whiny? The case can be made. But it’s also electric, a tribute both to Larson and to Story, who plays the composer as a tightly wound, preternaturally gifted songwriter. 

In “Green Green Dress,” an ode to young lust, he dances with his girlfriend, Susan (Phoebe Dawson). Susan’s great, but she’s starting to want a life that’s a little more stable. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s electricity is about to be shut off for nonpayment. Michael (Joshua Dixon), his former roommate, has moved on from the bohemian to the corporate, taking on the kind of job that gets you a BMW and fancy countertops. It’s the life Jonathan could have, maybe, if he’d only give up on his dreams. Instead, he waits tables to pay the bills. 

“Sunday” is a light, comical song about having contempt for the people you serve. That’s not a pretty sentiment, but it is one many people who have worked in the restaurant industry can relate to. 

What I most admire about Tick, Tick…Boom!, apart from the songs and the performances, is the way it avoids the obvious moves. Larson understood that life is lived in small moments, in the purchased Twinkie and the stolen kiss. And still, the clock’s ticking. He would go on to write Rent, which changed musical theater in many ways, most of them good. He never knew; Larson died the day before the Broadway premiere. That makes this show all the more poignant. Sometimes, the dream has to go on without you.


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