Bienen freshman Morgan Mastrangelo sees a lot of himself in Jonathan Larson, the writer of tick, tick … BOOM! And it doesn't hurt that Jon, the protagonist who Mastrangelo plays in this weekend's production of the show, is based off Larson himself.
“I know that there’s going to be a time in my life where I’m going to have to be forced to choose between my dream of being a musician and my relationships with people,” Mastrangelo said. “It’s just crazy how much I relate to him. Really, it is an incredible honor to play the role, just because it’s such a prolific character that it was based off.”
That’s the word to describe Larson: prolific. Most know him as the creator of Rent, the rock musical adaptation of Puccini’s opera La Bohème that would go on to win Larson a Pulitzer, nearly sweep the Tonys and become the 11th-longest running show on Broadway. Larson died the day of the first preview of Rent – but tick, tick … BOOM!, an autobiographical musical, gives some insight into Larson as a person.
“This is the one true look we get into the life and brain of Jonathan Larson that’s not just hearsay, because he passed away before he became famous so people didn’t go after him to interview him,” said Weinberg freshman Mary Olive Gauthier, the show’s producer. “[That] is what really originally drew me to the show.”
Gauthier began working on the show in the fall after being approached by her peer adviser, Communication sophomore Noah Watkins. As the show's director, Watkins convinced Gauthier that tick, tick … BOOM! was the right show to put up in the 100-seat Mussetter-Struble Theater as part of the Struble Project Series.
“When pitching this project to the Wirtz Center, they were a little confused,” Gauthier said. “They said, ‘You want to do a rock musical in the Struble?’ We said, ‘Of course we do.’ Because, although it’s a rock musical and it’s going to be kind of like a rock concert, the moments and the story is very intimate.”
Not only are the story and production intimate, the team behind it is close as well. The show has a cast of three – add a producer, director, assistant director, stage manager and music director, and that’s a team about half the size of a freshman seminar. For Mastrangelo, this creates a better environment as a performer.
“We’re very comfortable around each other,” Mastrangelo said. “The small cast stokes creativity in that you’re already so close with the small number of people that you’re not afraid to make choices that you would probably be afraid of if it were a huge cast.”
That comfort gives way to some emotional moments during the show (although it is a comedy, which Mastrangelo stresses). This peaks during “Why,” Mastrangelo’s favorite song to perform from the show.
“It’s just this statement … that he’s going to keep on making art, that he’s going to spend his time this way, that even though he’s struggling, this struggle is part of what makes being a musician so fulfilling for him,” Mastrangelo said. “It’s definitely the most raw, emotionally trying song of the show.”
Which gets to why Gauthier and Watkins chose the show in the first place: its relevance and relatability, particularly at Northwestern.
“I think it’s super important for this campus, where mental wellness is crucial to our student experience in this really high-stress environment,” Gauthier said.
So, while Mastrangelo can rattle off a list of valid reasons to see tick, tick … BOOM! – “it’s rock and roll, it’s incredibly fun, it’s loud, it’s unapologetic, it’s funny” – the best might be to take it as an opportunity to think about your own life.
“If you value yourself and want verification or want to question what you are doing on this campus in a very fun way, come to the show,” Gauthier said. “That’s the power of theater, is that you come for entertainment and you get entertainment, but what you also take away, that changes you and affects your life in ways that just normal moments can’t.”
tick, tick … BOOM! plays at the Mussetter-Struble Theater on April 28 at 8 p.m. and April 29 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. The show is free.