Andrew Garfield is simply sensational in the Netflix adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical stage musical
Starring Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, and Vanessa Hudgens
Before Rent, there was Tick, Tick… Boom!: Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical musical following his struggle with achieving his dreams of composing, all while confronted with his own mortality as he stares down the barrel of his thirtieth birthday. Little did Larson know at the time of writing, of course, that Rent would go on to achieve the Tony for Best Musical; nor would he. For all of his terror at the passing of time, Larson would find his life tragically cut short: dying of an aortic aneurysm at only 35 the exact day that Rent was to be performed for an audience.
Tick, Tick…Boom! sees Andrew Garfield’s Jon developing a sci-fi musical, based in a dystopian future, called Superbia, whilst also working at the Moondance diner and attempting to maintain his relationship with Susan (Alexandra Shipp). Around him, however, his faith in his own dream is being tested. Best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) has given up on acting to work in advertising, gaining a lavish apartment in the process, while Susan is considering leaving behind her dancing dreams for a more stable job which would take her away from New York entirely.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, already familiar with Tick, Tick…Boom!, having played the role of Jon himself, does well not to portray Larson through a rose-tinted lens. Truthfully, even though there is much evidence of Larson’s musical genius (the way that songs and ideas just seem to burst chaotically out of him is infinitely watchable), it is also plain to see the toll that it takes on him also. The way that he shuts out the world around him, to the detriment of his relationships, all in the name of achieving his farflung dream.
Miranda, in his directorial debut, wisely does not merely recreate the source material. Written originally as a one-hander, with Jonathan Larson essentially monologuing at an audience, interspersed with musical numbers (later rewritten as a trio, played here by Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens), Miranda uses a performance of Tick, Tick…Boom! as a framing device, allowing for Jon to drive the story forwards himself, as well as an organic way to include the songs from the original show.
Miranda also builds upon this, by including more hints towards Larson’s creative process, through the addition of extra material, such as the telltale sound of the opening riff to Larson’s famous One Song Glory from Rent, as well as witnessing the genesis of one of Larson’s musical numbers for Superbia through various scribbles on an array of post-it notes. The hints towards the eventual trajectory of Rent can also be seen, through Larson’s struggles with paying his bills, as well as the shadow of the ’90s AIDs crisis which lurks as an ominous spectre throughout the movie.
A loving ode to the magic of theatre, Tick, Tick…Boom! is a celebration of the immense toil that comes along with immense creativity. With a clear and intent reverence for Larson and his legacy, Tick, Tick…Boom! also shines through Garfield’s perfect, impassioned, no-holds-barred performance.
Tick, Tick…Boom! is streaming now on Netflix.