Nick Blaemire’s quarter-life crisis was much like Jonathan Larson’s.
“I was writing a show called A Little More Alive; we were about to do it in Kansas City, and it was a big deal because it was the first show that I’ve written since the show Glory Days that I wrote when I was 23 that had this crazy combustion,” says Blaemire of his show that closed on Broadway the same night it opened. “I was really telling myself that I was cool; I was okay, and I was just going to continue trucking, and I started writing two different shows to fill my time.”
Blaemire, who made his Broadway debut in Cry-Baby, wrote the music and lyrics to the Broadway musical Glory Days.
“There was a week when I was 28, where we got funding for [A Little More Alive],” he continues, “and it was a win. It was a totally exciting moment, and I remember lying on my bed, and my heart was beating too fast, and my girlfriend—who is now my wife, Ana—came over and rubbed my back and was like, ‘Are you okay? This is good.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’ It was a scary moment because I really hadn’t dealt with what writing means to me and what going through a public one-night performance Broadway explosion did to me. I didn’t really mourn it, and I had some growing up to do and perspective to find—about why I’m writing and what I’m trying to do—as opposed to being successful. [I had to figure out] what I’m trying to say [and] what I’m trying to contribute because I think that if art is not an active service, it’s a selfish pursuit, so I was trying to find that balance of entertaining people, but also talking about what you’re feeling about being a human, and it immediately changed the way that I looked at the show that I was writing.
“I thought, ‘Am I writing this for the right reasons?’ And those two years between 28 and 30 were fraught with a lot of anxiety and with me trying to figure out those questions. Now, being post-30, I’m really grateful for that friction and the transition… It’s not as fraught as we all make it, and I think that’s the transition that Jonathan goes through in [Tick, Tick…BOOM!].”
Blaemire stars as Jonathan, the character based on the life of Larson, in Larson’s autobiographical musical Tick, Tick…BOOM!, which began performances October 4 at Off-Broadway’s Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row. On the verge of turning 30, Jonathan is overcome by anxiety—feeling as though he has nothing to show for his career and unsure of where the future is heading.
Larson is trying to get his musical Superbia off the ground, but keeps thinking if he’s spending his time wisely—and if writing is really the career path for him.
If the show wasn’t written by Larson in 1990, one would think that it was a vehicle for Blaemire—the actor, now in his thirties, is a singer and a songwriter. He was 23 when his Glory Days opened and closed on the same night in 2008. Like Larson, his shows have a contemporary flair and dive into the human condition—how the characters think and feel in a world that challenges them.
Blaemire discovered the show after devouring Larson’s Rent. He thought, “This is not enough. I’ve eaten this cake 50 million times. I know every word. I know every note.” So he looked into Larson’s other work. “I was in high school [when Tick, Tick]came out,” he says, “and we just blasted it in the car. That was my rock music growing up—those two shows—and what he bottled in that show is so raw in a way that even Rent doesn’t totally contain. Rent is this magnum opus, and this is like his journal. These songs are reminiscent of Rent, and there’s things in them where [it] feels like he’s trying chord progressions—like ‘No More’ is essentially the song ‘Rent.’ It’s him figuring it out. He’s finding a language to speak through that’s his, and it’s pretty profound.”
As songwriters (and actors and artists, in general), aren’t we all trying to find our language as we navigate the road that leads from our twenties to adulthood?
“As for me, as a writer, it’s a really important reminder to put down [on paper] what you’re really going through, as opposed to [just] trying to be good,” Blaemire says. “I was trying to be fancy and do something ‘new,’ and I think that Jonathan really distilled that for me and continues to every day here—realizing this is about talking about what you’re going through even if it is embarrassing or even if it’s hard to articulate. That’s the journey of being an artist—to recognize, as opposed to trying to spit-shine.”
Blaemire has always wanted to do Tick, Tick…BOOM!; the show, the role and the music are all in his wheelhouse. However, he says, “it’s a lot to live up to. He’s a complete hero of mine, and he’s the reason that I write—the reason why I do what I do with my life—so on that level, it was really scary.”
But, Blaemire pushed forward. “It was like, ‘Absolutely I want to do this, and yes I will be there. I will dig as deeply as I can to find the connections between us,’ and in some ways, the connections are sort of too easy to make,” he says. “It’s hard to play somebody you admire that much, so I’ve really been trying to take it apart and figure out: Who is this guy, and where was he in his life during this moment? The whole ‘turning 30’ thing is big, and it was huge for me. It really screwed me up, and I recognized a lot of the anxiety that he is feeling in this moment and how it reverberates to the larger human question about what the hell you do with your limited time on earth.”
Michael Gioia is the Features Manager at Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.