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  • Articles by Sonali

    Film review: Tick, Tick… Boom!

    A new musical film called Tick, Tick… Boom! streaming on Netflix tells the story of the life of playwright and composer Jonathan Larson (1960-1996). There has been much hype surrounding the film, starring Andrew Garfield as Larson and directed by Lin Manuel Miranda, but watching a musical can be a daunting prospect if you are not a fan of the genre. Unfortunately the music here (mostly written by Larson) is on the cringy side and might be a struggle for some people. But if you can fast forward over the songs what is left is a compelling story enhanced by strong performances by the leads.

    Tick, Tick… Boom! is based on Larson’s autobiographical play of the same name written about reaching a crossroads in his life in his late twenties. Larson later went on to write the hit Broadway musical Rent and tragically passed away at the age of 35 on the morning of its preview.

    The film is a mixture of scenes from the play which Larson performs as a monologue with flashbacks to critical events in his life.

    It opens on 26 January 1990, somewhere between Greenwich Village and Soho in New York, a week before Larson’s thirtieth birthday as he sings the first (bland) track 30/90 about time ticking (hence Tick, Tick...Boom!) as he approaches thirty.

    His musicals have been unsuccessful so far but in a week’s time he will present a workshop showcasing his new musical Superbia which he has worked on for the past eight years. Superbia is a futuristic, dystopian rock musical for the MTV generation. The workshop will be attended by people from New York’s musical theatre industry, including his hero composer Stephen Sondheim. Meanwhile we see Larson cycling to the Moondance diner where he works as a waiter to pay the bills.

    Andrew Garfield is convincing as Larson with boundless energy and enthusiasm for musicals. He is dedicated to his dream of being ‘the future of musical theatre’ but his idealism is offset by the cynicism of the people close to him. Larson’s self -interest in highlighted when his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) a dancer is offered a teaching job in the Berkshires. But Larson refuses to move from New York.

    In fact, in terms of the film’s setting, there could be more attention paid to highlighting New York and its landmarks. The film also lacks period detail as the costumes do not signal the 1980s.

    We are given an insight into the process behind making musicals from how ideas are sparked in terms of his song writing and arranging music, to negotiating with theatre directors, participating in workshops and setting up rehearsals. In Larson’s case, despite all his efforts his musical Superbia was rejected.

    Larson questions his career path (especially since his former flatmate Michael (Robin de Jesus) has abandoned his dream of being an actor for a career in advertising) but his agent advises him to persevere and ‘write about what you know’. In a few years time Larson would write the musical Rent.

    Rent, dealing with issues like gentrification in New York and AIDS, was a resounding success winning a Tony award, Pulitzers and had a twelve year run on Broadway. But Larson did not get to experience any of this success. The film ends abruptly, perhaps alluding to the void left by Larson’s sudden death. There’s also a sense of poignancy that he (like Van Gogh) was not able to enjoy success in his lifetime.

    The film might be best suited to fans of musicals or fans of Andrew Garfield but Tick, Tick… Boom! has raised awareness of Larson’s life and if you are able to persevere with it, it is a fitting tribute to his memory.