Cinematic musicals have been experiencing a bit of a renaissance in recent years, with what it has to be said, have been wildly varying results. So it was music to the ears of fans of the genre when news broke that not only was there a cinematic adaptation of Tick, Tick…Boom!, Jonathan Larson’s fantastic autobiographical musical in the works, but that it was being directed by the Pulitzer Award and Tony Award-Winning broadway icon, Lin Manuel Miranda, making his feature directorial debut.
A man with an intimate knowledge and appreciation of the source material, (he played the role of Jon Larson himself in a New York City Revival of Tick, Tick…Boom! in 2014) Miranda was an inspired choice to helm this exciting new cinematic musical and with the help of a who’s who of Broadway talents and Netflix he has brought Larson’s empowering and emotional story to the silver screen with aplomb, breathing some new life into the genre in the process.
Telling the story of Jonathan Larson, the Broadway trailblazer who revolutionalized theatre as the creator of Rent (itself the subject of a so-so 2005 film adaptation), Tick, Tick…Boom! sees Academy Award nominee and Tony Award winner Andrew Garfield embody the role of Jon, a young theatre composer working on what he believes to be the next great American musical as he dances between making ends meet by waiting tables at an NYC diner and pursuing his Broadway dreams.
Putting us into the story days before he is set to showcase his work in a make-or-break, Tick, Tick…Boom! presents a portrait of an artist under intense pressure, from his girlfriend, from his best friend, and from his own expectations and the expectations of society. That this personal conflict is taking place amidst the backdrop of a community that is being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, only adds to the sense of urgency, providing environmental and emotional context for Jon’s primary question and the primary narrative concern of Tick, Tick…Boom!, what are we meant to do with the time that we have?
Tick, Tick…Boom! Brings The Broadway Brilliance of Jonathan Larson to LifeThis kind of late 20’s crisis of identity has been the subject of countless films (and musicals) before, but the way that Garfield embodies the emotional and psychological canvas of Jon comes together with our knowledge of the real-life character’s untimely demise (the real Jon died of a sudden aortic aneurysm the day before the off-Broadway debut of what would be his legend-making work Rent) to establish a feeling of a race against time, a race that it seems Jon is forever on the brink of losing. That tension is artfully utilized by Miranda and Garfield and amplified by the work of a phenomenal supporting cast including Alexandra Shipp as Susan, Jon’s girlfriend who dreams of an artistic life outside of the bubble of New York and Robin de Jesús as Michael, a heavy-handed but seemingly good-intentioned friend who has traded artistic dreams for finance, to bring us to an intimate understanding of Jon’s internal conflict.
At the core of both the narrative and the emotional tension of this film is built around a man writing a musical about writing a musical that will actually never get made. That creative process is heavily responsible for both one of the greatest musicals of all time (Rent), but also the creation of the source material it is drawing from only adds to both the enjoyability and complexity of what is essentially a character study, with musical accompaniment. While Tick, Tick…Boom!’s origin was a single character play that was then fleshed out to a three-character musical, Miranda’s cinematic musical expands the cast to over a dozen, allowing for a broader scope that utilizes the medium wonderfully. That those extra characters include a fictionalized version of an encouraging Steven Sondheim (played by Bradley Whitford) is one of quite a few memorable additions that make Tick, Tick…Boom! a captivating watch that seemingly never goes where you’re expecting it to, at the time you expect it to.
Much of the artistic license taken by Miranda and Tony Award-Winning writer Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen) adds to the effectiveness of the piece, with the technique of cutting between the cinematic recreation of Jon’s original performance of Tick, Tick…Boom! and the story as it unfolds in real-time providing both a purpose for as many of Larson’s songs as possible and a uniqueness that helps it stand out from other cinematic musicals.
The music itself is as superbly produced and performed as it is accurate to Larson’s craft, and it showcases just how much of this project has come from Miranda’s heartfelt desire to give Larson’s story the spotlight it always deserved, even if the man himself never got to see it.
A love letter to a man, his story, and a genre all in one, Tick, Tick…Boom! is a winning film and a powerful tribute to an industry gamechanger. Featuring a stellar cast including stars Academy Award nominee & Tony Award winner Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Tony Award nominee Robin De Jesus, Tony Award nominee Joshua Henry, Emmy Award nominee MJ Rodriguez, Emmy Award winner Bradley Whitford, Tariq Trotter (aka Black Thought of The Roots), Emmy and Tony Award winner Judith Light and Vanessa Hudgens, and procured by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Julie Oh, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.