Tick, Tick… Boom

Jonathan Larson
Netflix
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Tick, Tick… Boom Credit: Netflix

A film inspired by a life in the musical adds up to a sum much greater than its individual parts, primarily because in different ways Tick, Tick… Boom highlights three of the greatest forces behind the American musical boom of the last half-century.

The story of Jonathan Larson, brought back to inspirational life by a wonderfully moving Andrew Garfield, is a tragedy that would have seemed unbelievable in fiction.

Having endured over a decade of hard work following his ambition to become the progenitor of at least one Broadway musical, he passed away on the eve of the opening of Rent, the culmination of his quest and arguably one of the greatest musicals of all time.

His story is tastefully rendered on to film under the direction of Lin-Manuel Miranda. The man behind Hamilton manages to combine biography with songs out of an earlier Larson musical from which the movie takes its name.

Larson’s experiences, viewed on the eve of his 30th birthday in February 1990, encapsulate so much that was going on in the 1980s both on and off stage.

His determination to perfect Superbia, a promising but not quite promising enough musical, lead to extreme sacrifices.

Starvation, insomnia and a job in a diner seem bad enough but, along the way, he manages to drive away his girlfriend Susan, portrayed by Alexandra Shipp, and then antagonise best friend Michael, Robin de Jesús.

However, thanks to support from co-workers, a rehearsal team put together by Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Ira Weitzman and led by Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry, not to mention family, friends and an eccentric agent, disaster is averted.

He may be a quiet presence but Bradley Whitford as Stephen Sondheim is another moving force, generously providing great inspiration to a young man seeking to take his crown.

One of the strengths of Steven Levenson’s screenplay is its sureness in showing not only the character required to hit the heights but also the constant disappointments and sacrifices that come with the job (unless you are Stephen Sondheim or Lin-Manuel Miranda).

The music is both characteristic and catchy, while the history goes beyond one man’s life, since this is the era of AIDS when so many of Larson’s friends and contemporaries were falling by the wayside like doomed butterflies.

As a bonus for New York theatre aficionados who love star-gazing, dozens of roles that would normally be played by extras are taken by many of the great and the good—writers, directors and performers from on and off the Great White Way.

When so many contemporary movies seem to consist of little more than ever more expensive special effects, Tick, Tick… Boom has an effect that is really just special and will undoubtedly delight anyone who loves the musical stage.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher