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Rent's Late Jonathan Larson Reveals Power of Straight-Gay Friendship in Esoteric Revival

Rent's Late Jonathan Larson Reveals Power of Straight-Gay Friendship in Esoteric Revival


Tick, Tick…BOOM! pits creativity against life's harsh realities. 

George Salazar and Nick Blaemire in a scene from Tick, Tick...BOOM! Presented by Keen Company at Theatre Row's Acorn Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Jonathan Larson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and three-time Tony Award winner for Rent, originally wrote Tick, Tick... BOOM! as a rock monologue. After his death in 1996, David Auburn (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Proof) streamlined the piece and reconfigured it into a three-person show that premiered Off-Broadway in 2001. Now, Keen Company's Off-Broadway revival of the show is leaving audiences spellbound.

Like Rent, in Tick, Tick...BOOM! Larson explores the struggles of artists lost in a 1990s world where buoyant ideals have given way to a culture of cynicism, and excessive wealth has replaced happiness as the indicator of success. But what makes the production particularly compelling in 2016 is that Larson masterfully portrays a believable friendship between a gay and straight male.

The production stars Nick Blaemire as Jon, a man who is staring at his 30th birthday and has relatively nothing to show for his creative endeavors in New York City. In a supporting role, George Salazar plays Michael, Jon's best friend, who has given up on his dreams of being an actor and settled on a lucrative career as a marketing research executive. For both men, the late 1980s failed to deliver on the creative dreams that drew them to the grind of the sleepless city. This disappointment materially presents itself in Michael's three Gucci belts, a brand new BMW, and soon-to-be luxury apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Blaemire and Salazar skillfully portray a friendship that has become strained by the lack of shared ideologies and priorities. After rousing the audience with the plucky pop-rock anthem "No More," where Michael and Jon celebrate the joys of luxury, Michael sings "Real Life" with palpable anguish. Salazar, through heartrending vocalizations, paints an almost envious Michael who simply cannot comprehend why Jon is passing on the opportunity to settle down with his girlfriend Susan--played with aplomb by Ciara Renee.


George Salazar, Nick Blaemire and Ciara Renee. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

In a moment when the pair seem most at odds, Michael reveals a life-threatening truth that could possibly destroy their friendship. In a moment of raw confusion and fear, Jon runs away from Michael and expertly delivers a frantic monologue, which leads into a stirring, heartfelt performance of "Why?" Through this song, Jon's fear and distress melt into tender concern. Afterward, he is able to return to Michael and offer unconditional love and support.

The power of friendship is epitomized in these climatic moments when Larson and the cast expertly showcase how gay men and straight men can forge incomparable bonds. Through the dexterous performances given by Blaemire and Salazar throughout the evening, audiences realize that sexuality does not define their friendship. Rather, trust, compassion, and empathy are the truest measures of their relationship. Jon and Michael struggle through changes in dreams, definitions of success, losses, and triumphs, but never abandon each other.

Tick, Tick...BOOM! runs through Dec. 18 at the Acorn at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. For tickets and more information visit

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