Movie musicals have taken over this past year, with impressive titles including In the Heights, Annette, Cinderella, Dear Evan Hansen, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect. The latest addition to this lineup is Tick, Tick..Boom!, a film adaptation of the semi-autobiographical musical written by New York playwright and composer, Jonathan Larson. Written for the screen by Steven Levenson and directed by first-time feature director, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), the film follows Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) at the beginning of his career, when he was a waiter and struggling playwright and composer trying to get his passion project Superbia, a rock musical he had been working on for eight years, produced. Adding to the pressure Larson felt was the fact that he was about to turn thirty, and had yet to experience the level of success he craved.
Throughout the movie, Larson navigates the uncertainty that comes with being an artist, watches his friends accrue wealth in their respective fields, and struggles to balance his work and his relationship with his girlfriend, Susan (Alexandra Shipp). Keep in mind that this is all happening during the HIV/AIDS crisis, a disease that claimed the lives of several of his close friends. Larson was losing the ones he loved and was being repeatedly told that Superbia would be a bit too tricky and expensive to produce. He was angry and creatively unfulfilled, which eventually led him to write Tick, Tick...Boom!, a rock monologue he’d be able to handle and perform on his own that was fueled by all the emotions swirling around inside of him. The film also features Larson’s relationship with his mentor, Broadway legend, Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford), who helped him early on in his career.
This musical has quite a few elaborate numbers that include people (you guessed it) singing, and as the main attraction in the movie, Garfield’s at the heart of these performances. But is that really him busting out those vocals? Yes, yes it is! Did he always know he could sing this well? No, he did not. Garfield explained how this all happened in an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. According to Garfield, we have massage therapist, Gregg Miele (the “glue” that connects all of Broadway together), to thank for helping Garfield discover his own singing voice.
During an appointment with Miele, Lin-Manuel Miranda, asked if Garfield, another one of Miele’s clients, could sing. Garfield said that Miele told Miranda that Garfield had the voice of an “angel.” The only problem was, he had no clue if that was true. Miranda and Garfield met shortly thereafter and hit it off, and Miranda said he planned on shooting the following year. They knew there was enough time to prep his vocals and train before shooting started, and, if you see the movie, it’s clear that Garfield is quite the gifted singer. He recently talked with our own Steve Weintraub about his experience working with Miranda and how important it was to get this portrayal of Larson right.
Much of the success that Larson dreamed of came after he died at the age of 35 from an aortic aneurysm. In between waiting tables, he wrote the rock musical, Rent, which was based on the hardships he and his friends faced as artists in Manhattan and was inspired by the opera, La bohème. The musical transformed and reinvented Broadway, earning him three Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize posthumously.
Tick, Tick...Boom! is available to watch on Netflix now and has a limited theatrical release.
They also reveal which scene they wish they could show Jonathan Larson.
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