Netflix ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’ a Riveting Life Story of Composer Jonathan Larson

Tick, Tick…Boom! is a new film inspired by Jonathan Larson’s musical of the same name. The film is directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is recognized as the writer/composer/star of Broadway’s In the Heights and Hamilton.

The stage musical Tick, Tick..Boom! is a semi-autobiographical tale about a young composer’s fears of being irrelevant on the cusp of his 30th birthday. Drafted by screenwriter Steven Levenson, the script for the film is not a literal translation of the play. Rather, Levenson has rewritten the story to be the actual biography of the late Larson in the years before his mega hit Rent.

As a fan of the stage musical, I was at first a bit put off by the differences in the film adaptation. But the more I watched the film, the more captivating it was.

The film focuses on Larson trying to get his musical Superbia produced. Larson had been working on Superbia since graduating from Adelphi University in 1982.

Andrew Garfield is most widely known as the star of The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and its 2014 sequel. However, he is a talented actor who has proven himself over and over again in his subsequent work, including Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and Martin Scorsese’s Silence. His Broadway credits include Death of a Salesman, alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the starring role Angels in America. His resume includes Tony and Academy Award nominations.

Garfield’s performance as Jonathan Larson in the film Tick, Tick…Boom! is breathtaking. He fully captures Larson’s mannerisms, demeanor, drive, and self-doubt. He is also a capable singer. It is a tour de force performance that should be worthy of recognition come awards season.

Because it tells a different story than the stage version, only about 50% of the music from the theatrical score is used. Since I adore all the songs from the stage version, I was a bit disappointed less of the material made it into the film. But Levenson’s script doesn’t need the excess music. Forcing it into the film just because it’s good music would have diluted the impact of the movie.

The movie as it is, is excellent. Miranda proves himself a very talented director with a style that compliments Levenson’s script and Larson’s story.

Costarring in the film are Robin de Jesus as Larson’s best friend Michael. Michael and Larson grew up together. Michael was recognized as the acting star and Larson the music genius. At the point Tick, Tick…Boom! takes place, Michael has given up his acting ambitions and embarked on a career in advertising that is far more financially rewarding.

Alexandria Shipp plays Larson’s girlfriend Susan. At the point in Larson’s life captured in the film, Susan and Larson’s relationship is at a crossroads. Their careers are pulling them in different directions.

One of the true treats in the film is the number ‘Sunday.’ Ironically this is my least favorite song in the stage version of Tick, Tick…Boom! but the version Miranda has sculpted in film is awesome. One thing that makes the number so riveting is Miranda’s use of cameos in the number. Broadway stars including Bebe Neuwirth, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia show up in the musical number. It creates a strong bond between Larson’s aspirations in youth and the respect he earned in the Broadway community after his untimely death.

Sadly, Larson died before the first Off-Broadway performance of Rent. He never got to see how his work influenced Broadway forever.

Although it is a highly different story than the stage musical it is based on, Miranda’s Tick, Tick…Boom! is a wonderful piece of entertainment. The acting is strong and what music there is, is excellent.

Worth mentioning – legendary composer Stephen Sondheim was a mentor to Larson throughout his young career. In Tick, Tick…Boom! Bradley Whitford turns in a wonderful performance as Sondheim. He is only in a few scenes, but like the real Sondheim, he casts a large shadow.

Tick, Tick…Boom! can currently be seen on Netflix. If you want exposure to more of Larson’s work, consider giving the cast album of the Off-Broadway production starring Raul Esparza a listen. It’s what made me fall in love with Tick, Tick…Boom! in the first place.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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