Tick, tick… BOOM performance offers hope in times of uncertainty


Seven students made up the cast of the annual winter term musical performance. Photo by Emma Malinak, ’24.

Emma Malinak

“Compromise or persevere?”

This is the question Jonathan asks himself in “tick, tick… BOOM” as he contemplates his career path and fights against the tick…tick…ticking of growing up.

A cast of seven talented Washington & Lee students performed the musical “tick, tick… BOOM” in Keller Theater from March 31 to April 3. Their performance offered the hope that even in times of uncertainty, you do not have to compromise your dreams. 

As students struggle to study for finals, finish assignments, schedule for fall term or start paths of their own after graduation, the question of “compromise or persevere?” was especially relevant.

“A lot of us are in a stage where we don’t know exactly what we want to do in life and we’re trying to figure it out,” said Avani Kashyap, ’25.

Lizzy Nguyen, ’25, agreed that the end of winter term has forced students to start asking themselves big questions about the future. 

“It’s hard to deal with the fact that time keeps moving and moving and moving and you don’t know if you’re doing enough,” Nguyen said.

Thus, the semi-autobiographical story of Jonathan Larson was an inspirational lesson for audience members. While Larson is well known for his success with his musical “Rent,” his musical “tick, tick… BOOM” introduces the realistic struggles of an aspiring artist yearning to make a mark while balancing dreams with the demands of adulthood. 

“Tick, tick… BOOM” is set in New York City in 1990 and follows Jonathan, a composer working on a new musical, as he begins to reconsider if he is meant to work in the arts.

The show conveyed a sense of hope for many of the cast and audience members. Photo by Jess Kishbaugh, ’24.

Because Jon is just days away from turning 30, he feels as though his life is slipping away. His growing fear of failure begins to affect everyone around him, including his girlfriend Susan and his best friend Michael.

Darnell Pierre Benjamin, director and choreographer of the university’s production of “tick, tick… BOOM,” said he found that this musical aligned with both college students’ anxieties and the struggles of the pandemic.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and safe opportunities for performers and creatives became obsolete,” Benjamin explained in his director’s note. “Artists worldwide began shifting to new careers, questioning the viability of their current careers.”

Despite this applicability, the show was not the department’s original choice for the annual winter term musical performance. 

The department originally planned to produce “All Shook Up,” but the auditions did not produce a large enough ensemble to meet the demands of the show’s choreography. While Benjamin attempted to get the rights to a new musical and accommodate the ensemble members, the cast had to rehearse for weeks without knowing which show they would be performing in the spring. 

Charlie Mlcek, ’25, who played Michael in the final production, thinks that this initial chaos was crucial in uniting the cast.

“When we began there was a lot of uncertainty,” Mlcek said. “That uncertainty brought us together.”

Chas Chappell, ’25, who played Jonathan, agreed that this was an important time for the performers.

“Our cast bonded during that time in a way that translates really well to our onstage chemistry,” Chappell said.

Following this difficult start, the cast rehearsed for about 15 hours a week for the rest of winter term in order to perfect the show. Patrick Summers, musical director for the production, organized the piano, guitar, bass and drum parts for the performance and worked with the students to master their musical numbers.

“I have to thank our fantastic musical director for helping me to use my voice as an instrument of its own,” said Chappell, who originally doubted his ability to sing in the production.

During the week of the performance the three leads, Chappell, Mlcek and Ana Montano Martinez, ’25, came together with ensemble members and a live band for a captivating performance. 

For Chappell, Jonathan’s motivational evolution throughout the story reaches a climax when he decides to continue to pursue his dream of writing musicals.

“My favorite moment comes when Jon has to choose between a safe and normal 9-to-5 lifestyle and the exciting yet far more variable nature of the life of a struggling artist,” Chappell said.

Kashyap said she found Jonathan’s final decision to follow his dreams to be “comforting and inspirational” in a time when many students are struggling with their own big decisions.

“A huge theme of this show is hope,” agreed Nguyen.

These themes are exactly what cast members and Benjamin wanted the audience to take away from their performance.

“Keep working at what brings you joy, and it will show up for you in ways that might be your legacy. Keep hoping,” said Benjamin.