tick, tick . . . BOOM! tells the story of Rent composer Jonathan Larson

Andrew Garfield in tick, tick... BOOM!

tick, tick, . . . BOOM! looks at Broadway composer Jonathan Larson as he struggled to get his career started. He was turning 30 and hadn’t had a success yet. He thought his time was running out. This film looks at his first attempt at a Broadway musical, one he wrote before Rent became a hit.

Andrew Garfield plays Larson in tick, tick . . . BOOM! He brings a frantic desperation to the role of Jonathan Larson.

Larson worked for 8 years on his musical called Superbia. It was almost finished and he was ready to workshop it in front of Broadway producers. Almost. He needed one more song.

For a man who could write a song about anything at any time, he couldn’t get this one last song. It kept him in a panic throughout the film.

Robin de Jesus and Andrew Garfield in tick, tick... BOOM!

Jonathan had many friends. His best friend from childhood and his former roommate was Michael (Robin de Jesus). Michael supported Jonathan as a composer, but he had moved into a job making enough money to pay his bills and buy a car – goals far from what Jonathan was achieving.

Jonathan worked as a waiter in a diner. Carolyn (MJ Rodriguez) worked with him there.

Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp in tick, tick... BOOM!

Jonathan’s girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) was a dancer. She was thinking hard about finding a job with more financial security, too.

Lin-Manuel Miranda directed the film. Of course, the production reflected his touch. The music was by Larson, but the settings, the dances, the magic of Larson’s imagination were all contributions from Miranda.

Everyone did their own singing. There were literally dozens of award winning Broadway actors in small parts in this. A few: Laura Benanti, Danny Burstein, Richard Kind, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth, Bernadette Peters, Phylicia Rashad, Chita Rivera, and Phillipa Soo. The homage to Larson’s memory by so many Broadway actors was touching. Everybody wanted to show up for him.

When Jonathan managed to get a workshop performance together, his two star performers were played by Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry. His agent Rosa Stevens (Judith Light) did nothing to help until it was all over. On his own, Jonathan managed to get Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford) to come to the workshop. Incidentally, the voice mail Jonathan received after the performance was recorded by Stephen Sondeim himself.

Andrew Garfield in tick, tick... BOOM!

Andrew Garfield did a fantastic job with the part. He played Jonathan as self-obsessed, hyper, brilliant, and desperate all at once. When Superbia was finished he next wrote tick, tick . . . BOOM! which is what we’re watching here. His last effort was Rent.

A few words at the end of the film explain what happened to Jonathan Larson just before Rent was set to open off Broadway. It was a tragic end to what could have been a long and brilliant career.

I’m a lifelong fan of big Broadway musicals. This one feels different from what you expect in a musical. It was interior to Larson and his creative process, the music had a kind of hurried pace to it reflecting his desire to get something going before he turned 30. It worked better for me as a portrait of a creative person than it did as a musical.

The film was released in 2021. You can see it streaming on Netflix.

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