The tragic story of musical theatre writer Jonathan Larson blew the minds of Netflix viewers everywhere on Nov. 12.
“Tick, Tick… Boom!” shedding light on the disciplined and ambitious life of the composer and lyricist.
Larson, portrayed by Andrew Garfield, simply did not get enough time in his life. He tragically died at the young age of 35 only one day before the first performance of his Broadway hit “Rent”.
The film was directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is most known for writing, directing and starring in the popular musical “Hamilton” on Broadway. Miranda’s background provides an interesting insight, considering he too knows the struggles of living in New York and making it as an artist, specifically a playwright.
This film opens up with a song about Larson’s apprehension about turning 30, which is featured in his musical “Tick, tick… Boom!” in the years to follow. At this point in the film, the audience comes to know Larson is feeling the pressure of time, realizing many of his friends are getting married, starting to have kids and settling for careers which have higher pay grades and benefits.
He had been writing and revising his musical “Superbia”, patiently waiting for his big break for eight years. In the meantime, Larson was waiting tables at a diner with some of his artist friends in the city. His girlfriend is a dancer, but didn’t do it as a career —she became a teacher instead. Similarly, his friend and former roommate, Michael, who is now very successful working in advertising, also started out as an aspiring actor.
Larson believed he would be successful before turning 30, just like his idol, Stephen Sondheim, the writer of “West Side Story”.
During the film, Larson throws a party for his girlfriend in his apartment along with his friends and some of his coworkers from the Moondance diner. A song is then sung about living life in the boho days, which is ridiculously catchy and exciting to sing along to.
After the party, his girlfriend then decided to change the flow of the movie and bring up her new teaching job in Massachusetts. Larson does not comply as he could never see himself leaving New York. Although he shows a lot of affection towards his girlfriend through his words and actions, including throwing her a party he clearly can’t afford, his character is single-minded when it comes to his career dreams.
Larson’s single-mindedness is evident again later in the film when he sees Michael’s apartment and how much better he is doing living in luxury and not having to worry about money and success. Even though Larson is awestruck from the moment he sees Michael’s beautiful apartment, he doesn’t give up the strong conviction he was meant to have a career as a musical theatre show writer.
Even when all hope seems to be lost and Larson contemplates resorting to writing jingles as a profession, he still does not feel he is doing right by himself. He even goes on to bash Michael for his decision to give up acting and essentially go into a career field which convinces people they should buy things they don’t actually need. The two friends argue, since Larson thinks art is more valuable and a more noble contribution to the world and Michael thinks it’s impractical.
Later on we realize the truth is Michael believed he was a mediocre actor as it was, but he knew Larson had undeniable talent. He urged him to continue on and not settle.
This is when Larson was starting to lose faith after so many years and still getting nowhere. He still believed his work was set apart from much of what was on Broadway at the time. His work was important, but he was starting to think no one in power would see its potential for what it was.
Although “Superbia” was a hit after all the work and vigor Larson had bestowed upon his production, it never saw a Broadway run. The show did go on to win the Richard Rodgers Production Award and had performances at the Playwrights Horizons, leading him to gain the well-deserved recognition he craved.
Larson then went on to write “Tick, Tick… Boom!”, which was the hit which launched his career right to the top. It was a show about the questions he had about life; however, he unfortunately left this earth with most of them unanswered.
He then went on to release “Rent”, which was a project he had started before and had finally come back to after a long break. Larson tragically died the night before its first showing, but “Rent” did not die with him. The musical went on to have its run on Broadway for 12 years. Like Broaway’s “Hamilton”, it revolutionized musicals forever, changing the narrative of what a musical could look like.
A tissue box would be a great accomplice to this Oscar-worthy film. Although the story can be intense to take in and bear the loss of such an artistic genius, the catchy and relatable songs create the urge to dance all night long. If that isn’t enough incentive to open up the Netflix app, Vanessa Hudgens—the “High School Musical” legend herself—sings most of the female vocals within the film.
Madison Wanco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.