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tick, tick…BOOM! and Rent

Audrey Kupferberg pointing out some of her favorite Hollywood movie posters in her home in 2021.
Jackie Orchard
Audrey Kupferberg pointing out some of her favorite Hollywood movie posters in her home in 2021.

Netflix recently added a new rock musical to its program list. It’s called tick, tick…BOOM! In addition to being a movie with that title, Tick, Tick…BOOM! (spelled a little differently) also is the title of a stage musical written by composer, lyricist, playwright Jonathan Larson.

Tick, tick…BOOM! tells the story of a broke and somewhat disillusioned creative talent who lives in a dump of an apartment in an unfashionable neighborhood of New York City. His agent hasn’t spoken to him in months. His only income comes from waiting table and doing drudge work at a diner in the Village.

As a semi-autobiographical piece, the lead’s name naturally is Jon. Written by Larson in the 1980s, a demo album of the music was produced in 1989; however the first production wasn’t staged until 2001, when the Jane Street Theater presented an Off-Broadway premiere starring Raul Esparza.

Now we have a very stylish film version, an adaptation of sorts. Jon is played by Andrew Garfield. His is a stunning performance. According to the publicity on the film, Garfield spent a year learning to sing. While his singing is not dazzling in tone, he certainly gets the job done. His acting is inspired, and he really carries this film.

tick, tick…BOOM! is notable as the debut feature film directorial effort of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Who better to bring this project to life than a guy who went through his own years of struggle… before the success of In the Heights and then, of course, the blockbuster success of Hamilton?

Miranda directs with elegance. There is a graceful tone throughout; it is fluid in its dramatic movement. By coincidence, back in 2014, Miranda played the lead in a stage presentation of Tick, Tick…BOOM! at Encores! in New York City.

Miranda has his Hamilton, and Jonathan Larson had Rent. For Rent, a rock musical which is a take on Puccini’s La Boheme, Larson won the Pulitzer Prize, several Tony Awards, and Drama Desk Awards. However, Larson did not live to enjoy his triumph. He died the day of Rent’s first Off-Broadway preview performance in 1996. He suffered an aortic dissection and was dead at the age of 35. Rent ran for twelve years on Broadway and is being produced somewhere even now.

The most well-known screen version of Rent was released in 2005 and stars many of the gifted original Broadway cast members. It was directed by Chris Columbus whose work includes the helming of Harry Potter movies, Home Alone, and Mrs. Doubtfire.

It’s an estimated $40 million production, taking the various characters’ stories of addition, homelessness, and AIDS in the East Village away from the original design of a stagebound neighborhood to open streets and real sets. Despite the restrictions of the stage production, the congestion of buildings constructed or implied onstage, that live theater audience experience held more emotion for me and a clearer connection to the characters than the sprawling film adaptation. The talent is there, but the magnetism is lost. The film adaptation of Rent was not received well by critics. Having screened it recently, it strikes me as a glamorous record of Rent’s content, rather than a heartfelt document.

But with tick, tick…Boom! the movie, Andrew Garfield, talented supporting leads Robin de Jesus (who was equally effective in last year’s film version of The Boys in the Band), and Alexandra Shipp, connect with audiences in a big way. This film is a gift to those who enjoy the rock musical genre and who admire Jonathan Larson’s work.

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