“Tick, Tick… Boom!” blows away audiences

Video courtesy of Netflix.

By Melissa Redlich, Features Editor

“Tick, Tick… Boom!” A ticking time bomb. The sound of one man’s mounting anxiety.

“Tick, Tick… Boom!” is a new Netflix film starring Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson- creator of the Tony Award-winning rock musical “Rent”. Lin-Manuel Miranda directed this film adaptation of Larson’s semi-autobiographical musical by the same name, originally written in 1990. “Tick, Tick… Boom!” begins with a quick overview of Larson’s life, explaining his creation of two musicals before pursuing the idea of “Rent”: “Superbia”, a futuristic rock musical retelling of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” and “Tick, Tick… Boom!”, the musical version of Johnathon Larson’s struggles as an aspiring composer living in Manhattan. 

The title “”Tick, Tick… Boom!”” refers to the nearing time bomb associated with Larson’s 30th birthday. Larson has anxiety about failing to accomplish anything important by the time he turns 30, and is struggling with his dreams of being a musical theater composer given the many sacrifices involved. He is a “starving artist,” making very little money as a waiter at the Moondance Diner, while he waits for his big break. 

At the beginning of the movie, Larson has two big things on his mind: his 30th birthday and the upcoming workshop for his finally ready-to-be-seen musical “Superbia”. When he is not focused on those two things, he is seen either ignoring his girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp) or hanging out with his best friend of 20 years (Robin de Jesús). 

The film flickers between segments of Larson writing Superbia, him performing in “Tick, Tick… Boom!”, and the reality of his life in New York in the 1990s. While movies that flip between points in time can be confusing, this musical has the perfect balance which makes it easy to understand and fun to watch.

In an interview with Radio Times, Lin-Manuel Miranda said that it was necessary for him to put together this musical because Larson was the person who inspired him to pursue film writing and Broadway. 

“I felt like if it would be any movie, it was this one – because Jonathan Larson was the artist who made me feel like I had permission to write a musical one day,” Miranda said.

Not only does “Tick, Tick… Boom!” feature heartthrob Andrew Garfield from “The Amazing Spider Man”, it also includes a star-studded cast: including Vanessa Hudgens (playing Karessa Johnson) from “High School Musical”, Alexandra Shipp from “Love Simon”, Robin de Jesús from “In the Heights”, and Bradley Whitford (playing Stephen Sondheim) from “The West Wing”.

There also are guest appearances from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephen Sondheim, Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Bernadette Peters, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and many more. All of these famous Broadway stars enhance the experience of the movie and its tribute to Broadway.

This film has an amazing cast, a fantastic musical score with hit songs “30/90” and “Boho Days” and a great – albeit sad – story. The musical performances lift the otherwise somber tone, lighten the darkness of the story, and give perspective to why sometimes people choose passion over security.

Larson’s most famous musical, Rent, is about poor, young artists struggling to survive and flourish in Manhattan’s East Village during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the late 20th century. This sentiment is perfectly displayed in “Tick, Tick… Boom!” with some of Jonathan’s closest friends testing positive for the virus. Tragically, Larson never saw his masterpiece – which in 1996 won four Tony Awards, one for Best Musical, and spent 13 years on Broadway – in the theater. He died unexpectedly the morning of the first show from an aortic aneurysm. He was 35 years old. 

Why come out with “Tick, Tick… Boom!” decades after it was written? Featuring great friendships and “right person wrong time” drama, “Tick, Tick… Boom!” has it all: the pressures of success, the costs of following one’s dreams, the artist’s need to create, the importance of friendship and encouragement, the difficult decisions relating to growing up, the backdrop of fear from a deadly virus and the pressure to make one’s life worth living.

A must watch for all, this film grapples with the idea of finding your true passion in life and sticking with it no matter how hard it is. Inspiration for his musical and showcase struck Jonathan at different times during this film, and what makes it so special is that it struck the audience, too. 

Viewers will leave with the urge to find their own purpose and passion and immediately begin looking for ways to move to the big city and discover what they are meant to share with the world. Like Jonathon Larson writes musicals, viewers are able to dive deeper into their future.