Review of Netflix musical ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’ with ‘Spiderman’ actor in an awesome lead performance
THERE have been so many musicals shown this year and one of the best is “Tick, Tick… Boom!” It started as a rock monologue written by Jonathan Larson in 1989 and first performed off Broadway in September, 1990. It’s a semi-autobiographical work about an aspiring composer who is trying to figure out his next project after the workshop for his first try in writing a musical, “Superbia”, didn’t work, reflecting his increasing frustration with his career.
Larson then went on to write “Rent” in 1993 but he died at 35 on the night before it was first staged on Broadway due to aortic aneurysm. It turns out that his clock is really ticking. The rock musical “Rent” is a smash hit and ran for 12 years, but he didn’t see its success. After his death, David Auburn re-wrote “Tick, Tick… Boom!” from a solo piece to a three-person musical and improved its structure.
This was staged off Broadway in 2001 and this is the version on which the film adaptation is based by Lin-Manuel Miranda, his directorial debut, with a script written by Steven Levenson whose recent “Dear Evan Hansen” film adaptation bombed. Miranda wrote two Broadway hits, “In the Heights” (also filmed this year) and “Hamilton”. He himself has starred in the lead role of Jonathan in the Encores New York City Revival in 2014.
On stage, the show is a three–character play, with the actors playing Michael and Susan also playing various other roles. For the film version, they added many other characters. The year is 1990 and the play starts with Jon (Andrew Garfield, former “Spider Man” who we didn’t know can sing) saying that the tick, tick sound “you are hearing… is the sound of one man’s mounting anxiety” and that’s him.
The film’s main structure shows Jon performing his rock monologue on stage with his friends Roger (Joshua Henry) and Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens.) The film always goes back to this frame as Jon narrates the other events happening in his life. Living in New York, he aspires to be a composer of musicals and in the first song, “30/90” he’s worried that he’ll be 30 soon in 1990 and has yet to achieve anything unlike his idol, Stephen Sondheim, who was only 27 when he had his first hit musical. Sondheim just died on November 26, 2021 at the age of 91 and is not able to see release of the new version of his Oscar-winning “West Side Story”.
Jonathan has a girlfriend, Susan, a dancer (played by Alexandra Shipp, one of the prettiest black actresses today we’ve seen in “X-Men” and “Love, Simon” and who also we didn’t know can sing). Susan wants him to join her in a regular teaching job but, of course, he is reluctant.
His best friend since childhood is Michael (Robin de Jesus, who’s extremely good), who wants to try acting but gave it up to have a more stable career in advertising. Michael takes him to visit his new apartment at the Upper East Side and he is surprised at how prosperous his friend’s life is. Michael also offers him a job in the company he works with but he bungles it.
While trying to write, Jonathan works as a waiter at the Moondance Diner in Soho. He also have two friends there Carolyn (MJ Rodriguez of “Pose”) and Freddy (Ben Levi Ross), who is diagnosed as HIV positive, adding another distraction to his already busy life as he has many friends who already died of AIDS.
Miranda succeeds in making his film adaptation not only a moving tribute to Jonathan Larson but also a homage to the theatre and the creative passion of the people working in it. He certainly knows his milieu and is personally familiar with the struggles, the trials and triumphs of composing musical plays.
The movie’s transition from theatre to film then film and back is truly seamless and cinematic. It shows Miranda knows not only theatre but also film language, expanding the material to fit the big screen, making his directorial debut a gift beautifully wrapped with love not only for Jonathan but all theatre and film lovers.
And Miranda made a good choice in Andrew Garfield who gives a full-hearted, totally appealing turn as Jon. There are times when his character turns you off because of his irresponsibility (when his electricity was cut off because he has not paid his bill, we said “buti nga sa’yo”), but his performance remains engaging. He makes the character feel real, perfectly attuned to the way Jon’s enthusiasm for his music and the musical he is writing which he thinks will be his ticket to success.
The musical numbers are imaginatively staged and we should make a special mention of “Sunday”, which is a celebration of Broadway with cameos by top Broadway stars from the past to the present, like legends Joel Grey, Chita Rivera and Bernadette Peters and, the most recognizable for us, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Philippa Soo because we just saw them in “Hamilton”.