Here’s a confession: I haven’t finished watching “Tick, Tick… Boom!”—yup, the 2021 film which earned Andrew Garfield his second Oscar nomination. No, it’s not that I wasn’t vibing with the beginning, got sucked in by a random YouTube video (thanks to my short attention span), nor dozed off midway as a tired adult. It’s just that I wasn’t exactly in the best disposition, and figured it would be nice and more sensible to consume Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut when I’m in a better headspace. I just had to be, especially when I found out that it spotlights a creative going through a rough patch in his career decisions, which sounds like an existential crisis session waiting to happen. So, down to my Letterboxd to-watch list it went.
Another confession: I did the process in reverse. I decided to plunge into its talk-of-the-town soundtrack first and later discovered why it was raved about. Apart from the fun and engaging sound, its lyrics felt either diaristic or like snippets of long overdue conversations. With this peek into the movie’s introspection, I found myself intrigued with Jon, the protagonist.
Jon’s character is the brainchild of playwright Jonathan Larson, as the stage musical “Tick, Tick… Boom!” actually serves as his semi-autobiography. In the story, not only is Jon torn between pursuing or leaving his unstable musical theater career, but he’s also at a crossroads with his different relationships. Everything just induces pressure. To top it off, he’s not too excited singing “happy birthday” for his 30th birthday. Suddenly, the ticking of the clock is the most unbearable sound to ever exist—and it’s the one he hears when something’s bound to fall apart. (Have you ever encountered those memes that tell about the strange but real phenomenon about crying on your birthday? I can imagine Jon sharing those with a keyboard smash-like caption.)
Jonathan Larson’s “Tick, Tick… Boom!” serves as 9 Works Theatrical’s comeback after the pandemic-prompted hiatus. It’s also a rerun as they first staged the musical in 2016. Directed by Robbie Guevara, with choreography by JM Cabling and musical direction by Daniel Bartolome, this Philippine revival features a powerful alternating cast: Reb Atadero and Vien King as Michael; Tanya Manalang-Atadero and Kayla Rivera as Susan; and Jef Flores and first-time theater actor Khalil Ramos as Jon.
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While the narrative is pretty personal with its specific details, it hits close to home—especially when you’re a creative who’s still navigating the waters of growing up. In fact, even the actors had a connection with the main character just from immersing into the story, albeit unintentionally. In an exclusive chat after one of their rehearsals, I asked the cast about how they prepared for their roles.
@scoutmagph moving performances + great music + existential crisis? sign me up 😎 #theaterph #fyp #ticktickBOOMmnl ♬ original sound – scoutmagph
“I really don’t consume anything but this show. I don’t watch other shows, I don’t watch movies. I don’t listen to music outside of the show,” Jeff tells me. “I guess it’s immersion… I kind of like, block out everything else that’s not the show.”
He adds, “After this rehearsal is done, I’ll probably sit down, read my script some more, and probably play the piano until I fall asleep. And I’ll wake up and do it all again. That’s my life.” Laughter erupts in the room.
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Reb agrees to this. “Funny enough, what I had to do to actually get into the headspace of this show is to turn 30. That’s it. All the anxiety that [comes] with you being 30 and above, especially in this country. All the expectations, all the pressures from society, from your parents, your friends… And then the words are there, and that’s exactly what I was thinking. So, dress me up and let’s do it,” he laughs.
“And of course, [we prepared by] trusting each other in the process that we’re on the same page, that we’re working as a team to be able to tell one story,” he adds. “It’s comforting to know that they’re going to be there for me, [and] we’re going to be there for each other.”
Meanwhile, sleep was vital for Vien as someone who was juggling gigs and events prior to his “Tick, Tick… Boom!” preparation. “I started feeling kind of tired, so I really just needed to simmer the moment, just rest and [absorb] the script, the text, the music, so that I can appreciate and bring something to the rehearsals.”
As for Tanya: “To get into that headspace, I think all I had to do was call my mom. I love her, okay? I love her.” Giggles fill the room before she explains scenarios like getting told about, “I want an apo.”
“As a woman, I am faced with these insane anxiety-triggering things every single day. But I can immerse myself in all of these and swim in a sea of anxiety as much as I want, but I just wanna highlight what Rev said, it’s about teamwork, I think that’s the most important thing—that we’re all going in the same direction,” she further explains. “I think that’s what I want to dwell on more than my internalization, ‘cause that rarely ever works for me. I have to be—we have to be on the same page every single time and tell the truth. Not just the story, but the truth.”
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Aside from listening to the soundtrack of “Tick, Tick… Boom!” on a daily basis everywhere (e.g. in the car, shower, gym, and before sleeping) and also reading the material, Khalil made use of an “existing” motivation.
“Just like what Rev said, it’s a very available stimulus. It didn’t take much to get in touch with my anxieties. I’m also approaching 30, I’m in my late twenties now—27 to be exact. And there was a big looming rain cloud, I guess, over artists, especially after the pandemic. At least I felt it so much that it made me really anxious: When everything’s back, what’s next? What do you have in store? What’s left in the tank for you to do? Do you still have an actual, you know, platform?” he unpacks the burning questions in his head.
“Me transitioning into more of a content creator during the pandemic, losing hold of my passion because I couldn’t do any films, I couldn’t do TV… When everything came back, I didn’t know where to go,” Khalil confesses.
“I didn’t know what to do. On top of that, I have a relationship of six years, my friends are getting married, my other friend has a kid, my finances—is it stable enough? All of that. Patong, patong, patong. And that’s Jon in the show,” his cast members laugh with him. “That’s the available stimulus I was talking about. And it’s just really the sheer reality of Jon.”
Khalil wears many hats—he’s a singer, TV and film actor, and even a photographer. But is there anything he discovered about himself while unlocking his newly minted theater actor persona?
“I am now a dancer,” he mentions the word like a revelation. “So, you were teased kanina, I gave you a kembot.”
When everyone’s cheers die down, he continues in a much more serious tone, “I’ve always loved doing new things. And when I do discover something, I really dive deep into it. During the pandemic, it was coffee.”
He adds, “And just like this new system for me, of working and finding truth this way, preparing for a production in this way, is something just so refreshing as an actor. Because I’ve been doing film and TV acting for quite some time, and this is totally different. It’s really [taken] me out of my comfort zone, out of the usual process that I do as an actor. It’s so rewarding ‘cause as an actor I always find new ways to do my job. I couldn’t stop [at] what I did in my previous show or previous movie. I’m eager to find more ways to find truth in the stories that I tell, so that I would still live up to the purpose of storytelling.”
“Tick, Tick… Boom!” will have its final show on Sept. 3, 3 p.m. at the RCBC Theater in Makati.
Header photos by JV Rabano from 9 Works Theatrical/Facebook and Instagram