REVIEW: ‘tick, tick… BOOM!’

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Photo by Randi Haseman

“tick tick…BOOM!” premiered on Netflix in November 2021.

Winter in Milwaukee has me staying inside and watching movies to avoid the icy sidewalks and slushy streets. My latest movie marathon featured a lot of musicals, much to the dismay of my roommate.  

“tick, tick… BOOM!” debuted on Netflix in November 2021, and it is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut. Among his other works, Miranda developed the soundtrack for Disney’s “Moana” and he wrote the Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton.” Miranda’s first appearance as director thoroughly impressed me. Andrew Garfield stars in the film alongside Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus and Vanessa Hudgens. 

The film is an autobiographical musical about Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), an aspiring theater director dealing with the highs and lows of an artist’s life in New York City. In the days leading up to a crucial performance, Larson’s relationships become strained, and he begins doubting himself, all the while living within a community devastated by the AIDS epidemic of the ’90s. In addition to “tick, tick… BOOM!” Larson also wrote the award-winning Broadway musical “Rent.”

The production has a runtime of nearly two hours but it didn’t feel that long. It features original songs all written by Larson. Throughout the film there are cameos from Broadway stars including Philippa Soo, who played Eliza in “Hamilton,” Chita Rivera, most famous for the role of Anita in “West Side Story,” and famous composer Stephen Sondheim. Their appearances were mostly background characters, but it was a great scavenger hunt for Broadway super-fans.

Larson wrote all the music for “tick, tick… BOOM!” but it didn’t reach the stage until 2001. His first show was called “Superbia,” he worked a version of it in 1990 that never was professionally performed, but Larson is most recognized for “Rent.” Larson revolutionized musical theater with rock-inspired music in “Rent” but unfortunately, he never got to see it on the big stage. The night before it was premiered off-Broadway, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm in his home at the age of 35. After an emotionally charged preview, the show went on to have a successful run and moved to Broadway in April 1996.

To honor Larson’s memory, Garfield dedicated himself to the role before production even began. Aside from bearing a striking resemblance to the late composer, Garfield spent over a year taking vocal lessons and learning how to play the piano to embody his character. I was impressed with his performance and the time he spent on the role paid off in the final production. In addition to “tick, tick… BOOM!” Garfield has spent more time in the spotlight because of the latest Marvel movie “Spider-Man: No Way Home” where he reprised his role as Peter Parker.

Garfield insisted on singing the emotional pinnacle, the song “Why,” live to properly capture the hopelessness. When I was watching the scene I could feel the pain and anguish coming through the song.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed learning about a young artist who only wanted to make art in a hostile world. The film is emotionally charged and had me shedding more than a few tears by the end.

This story was written by Izzy Fonfara Drewel. She can be reached at isabella.fonfaradrewel@marquette.edu.