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The story of your life

9 Works Theatrical’s new off-Broadway offering about a young man’s mounting anxiety and external pressure is impossible for Millennials to not relate to

By Joachim Valdes

A study by The American Psychological Association states that Millennials are the most stressed out generation ever. One of our unofficial nicknames is in fact, “Generation Stress.”


In an era of people in the workforce plagued by debt, unfavorable job market, low salaries, increasing pressure to succeed at a younger age, and the onslaught of social media humble-bragging, such a statistic seems a little understated. Ask any adult in their early 20s if they’re anywhere near the point they had envisioned they’d be, and maybe, eight times out of 10, they’ll say no.

And that’s what makes Tick, Tick… Boom!, presented by 9 Works Theatrical, as relevant as it is today. Tick, Tick… Boom! is the seminal autobiographical work of the legendary Jonathan Larson, known for his success on the musical Rent. It was initially written as a rock monologue—a form of theater that was relatively new to Broadway back in 1990. After Larson’s death in 1996, producers picked up the play and restructured it into a three-actor piece.

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Michael and Susan in awe as Jon’s idol in musical composition Steven Sondheim contacts him about working together, capping off a very intimate birthday celebration (Manila Bulletin)

The show opens with a pitch-black stage and a persistent ticking noise, as our protagonist Jon introduces himself: “The sound you are hearing is not a technical problem. It is not a musical cue. It is not a joke. It is the sound of one man’s mounting anxiety. I… am that man.” From there, we learn that Jon is a 29-year-old aspiring composer for musical theater, living off bare minimum wage as a waiter in SoHo, New York.

His mounting anxiety stems from the fear that because of his lack of achievement, his creativity and relevance in the performing arts industry will peak on his 30th birthday, several weeks away. In between panic attacks about why his agent never returns his calls, as well as the jitters he feels about the forthcoming workshop of his original, five-years-in-the-making musical Superbia, Jon is under tremendous external pressure. His roommate Michael, who gave up his dreams of acting to become a successful marketing executive, pressures Jon to schedule an interview with his marketing firm. Jon’s girlfriend, Susan, a relatively successful dancer who teaches ballet to “wealthy and untalented children,” wants to leave New York to share a decent life with him in Cape Cod.

Still on the vein of Millennial appeal and validation, 9Works Theatrical chose to feature Tick, Tick… Boom! as a celebration of the success of their previous renditions of Larson’s iconic musical Rent. “We had decided it would be ridiculous to show [Rent] a fourth time,” said director Robbie Guevara. “It also went very well with the theme of Millennials, and the things they go through, even though the show is set in the ’90s.”

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Jon and Susan (Manalang) call it quits in a very passive-aggressive (and hilarious) performance of ‘Therapy.’(Manila Bulletin)


The set of Tick, Tick… Boom! may seem underwhelming at first, but don’t be fooled: Every single set piece is a key element for each scene, and the actors’ performance and stage familiarity more than make up for a stage setting that is significantly less of the campy, comical productions you would normally associate with Broadway. The cast in their dynamic and over-the-top dialogue and portrayal of their characters and scenes compensate for a minimalist stage in such a way that the audience slowly but surely and comfortably gets accustomed to the barebone-ness of the set. Despite the significant lack of campiness, however, there is something to be said about the creative versatility of the minimalistic production: a set assembled from tables, chairs, a few tablecloths, and a single overhead lamp/sculpture is one that only sharp scenography, direction, and experienced, talented actors could breathe life into. And they breathe life into it they did—in a manner similar to that of Lady Gaga at the uprise of her career, producing a hit music video on a budget.

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Jon uncovers an old rehearsal piano in Central Park, rekindling his love for music, and realizing why he aspires to become a composer (Manila Bulletin)

The cast is amazingly versatile, too—they would have to be, to remain loyal to the restructured vision of the play. Jef Flores, Tanya Manalang, and Ariel Reonal brave the prospect of playing a full-on cast of characters, but pull it off with much aplomb and ease! Tanya’s sincerity and sass in her portrayal of Susan is nowhere to be observed in her bubbly, “excited-to-be-here” portrayal of Karessa, the star of Jon’s musical Superbia. Ariel’s Michael holds all the composure and introspective maturity of a 30-year-old who’s set for life, throw on a pair of shades and a scarf, however, and he’ll easily (and hilariously!) play Jon’s agent, Rosa. Most of the production is comprised of one actor playing several different roles, frequently running off stages left or right to prep for their next costume change. The only actor whose role does not change is Jef, whose portrayal of Jon perfectly embodies the frantically jumpy anxiety of a man 45 minutes late for an interview with a high-level executive. As it was originally written as a monologue, most of Jon’s lines are built on narrations of his thought to the audience in a classic breaking of the fourth wall—monologues done with such a perfect understanding of panic, anxiety, and fidgety nervousness, it is impossible for you to not relate.


Although set in the ’90s, Tick, Tick… Boom!’s unrelenting charm lies in the resonance of Jon to the show’s audience. Jon’s inner turmoil addresses the crushing weight of the pressure to achieve success at a young age, amid other issues such as choosing between a job that fuels your passion and one that feeds you on the daily but starves you mentally and emotionally. It’s a reflection not only of the struggle to choose between dreams and reality, but also of deciding quickly before the doors close on you! The gravity of this “pre-midlife crisis” aside, however, the levity of the dialogues will have you bouncing on your seat from laughter. Jon’s conversations with Michael find you caught between wallowing in the mess you’re drowning in, and fighting to keep your head above the water. Through all this, Susan remains a strong life support for Jon, but also loses herself in choosing between Jon’s life and her own desires.

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Michael (Reonal) shows Jon (Flores) the wonders of life in the luxurious Upper East Side of New York. (Manila Bulletin)

It would be an injustice to the show, however, to not talk about Jef’s rendition of the song “Why.” After the seemingly unsuccessful opening of the workshop for his original musical Superbia, Jon tells Michael he’s finally resigning himself to corporate life. To his surprise, Michael objects, and after a heated argument, reveals to Jon that he had just been diagnosed with HIV. In a poignant number brimming with vulnerability and pain, Jon is struck by the epiphany that although the road to success as a composer was fraught with uncertainty, it would be where he would find himself most fulfilled.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that self-actualization and fulfillment is at the very top of our needs as humans. The beauty of 9 Works’ Tick, Tick… Boom! lies in its depiction of a generation transcending struggle as a Millennial-ly trademarked issue. Larson’s chaos in his life and the impending doom he felt himself slipping into was perfectly translated into Jon’s character and plot, and serves a piping hot serving of truth tea not only to Millennials but to any generation watching such a comically magnificent show.

Whether you’re a Millennial starting out at a job contrary to your preference and questioning your life choices, or a senior officer at the prime of your career, Tick, Tick… Boom! is the story of your life.