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The Genius of Tick, Tick… Boom!

On November 19, 2021, Tick, Tick…Boom! released on Netflix and set off an explosion of love for the movie musical, for Jonathan Larson, and of course, for none other than Mr. Andrew Garfield. The film is an autobiographical, one-man musical about Jonathan Larson (portrayed by Garfield), an aspiring theater composer coping with the ups and downs of an artist’s life in New York City. In the days leading up to an important showcase (and his thirtieth birthday), 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! Tick, Tick…Boom! marks Broadway veteran Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, and I am thoroughly impressed. Andrew Garfield stars in the film alongside Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, and Vanessa Hudgens. 

The viewers who aren’t huge fans of musical theater might ask, “Who is Jonathan Larson?” As depicted in the film, Larson wrote all the music for Tick, Tick…Boom! in the 1990s after workshopping a version of his show Superbia. Soon after the show’s limited run, he produced his most famous piece, Rent, which changed the game of musical theater as a contemporary rock opera. Rent went on to win several Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Larson received all these awards posthumously, due to his sudden death from an aortic aneurysm in 1996. 

I have to start by reviewing some of the standout musical numbers from the film. First is “30/90,” the incredibly catchy and upbeat opening number, in which Larson sings about the stresses of turning thirty years old in 1990. The montage sets up the story well and this is about the time my jaw dropped from hearing Andrew Garfield sing for the first time. Next is “Boho Days,” which has quickly become one of the most popular songs from the film due to its playful nature and relatability for young people living in New York City (like us Pace NYC students). 

I have to talk about “Sunday” as it relates to the late great Stephen Sondheim. A major part of the film is Jonathan Larson’s admiration for Sondheim as a musical theater composer. His entire goal of making it big on Broadway before turning thirty is solely based on the fact Sondheim put on his first original musical at twenty-seven years old. Sondheim even makes an appearance (as a character, played by Bradley Whitford) in the film, as he attended the workshop of Superbia upon Larson’s invitation. “Sunday” mimics Sondheim’s song of the same in his musical Sunday in the Park With George and details Larson’s ups and downs of working a brunch shift at the Moondance Diner. I think it’s necessary to note that I watched this movie for the first time on November 24 only to find out two days later that Sondheim had passed away, and it was a tough blow. I relate to Larson’s admiration for Sondheim, and watching this movie around the same time felt like an unofficial tribute. 

Arguably one of the more popular numbers is “Therapy,” which depicts a couple trying to work out their problems in a civilized manner. Garfield and Vanessa Hudgens, who plays Karessa Johnson, one of Larson’s friends who performed in the Superbia workshop and the original performance of Tick, Tick…Boom! The song is meant to reflect the problems going on in Larson’s relationship with his girlfriend (in the film) Susan. Miranda and the film’s choreographer Ryan Heffington stylized the number like a very Fosse-inspired puppet show. It was also very well edited because it switched back and forth between that performance and an actual argument between Jonathan and Susan. 

Last but not least, one of the most emotional numbers in the film is “Why,” a solo performed by Larson alone at the piano onstage at the Central Park amphitheater. The number takes place after Jonathan’s best friend Michael tells them that he’s tested positive for HIV, at a time when that was a death sentence. He sings of his memories with Michael from the time they first met to the time they spent together in New York City as adults. At the time so many people were dying from AIDS and we can only assume Larson was inspired by what was going on around him to write Rent. 

There are a lot of musical movies out there, but none with an origin story like Larson’s that takes us back to where a masterpiece began. Whether you’re a musical theater composer or not, Larson’s struggle as a young artist is something many people can relate to, and Garfield gives a career-defining performance whilst unveiling song and dance skills we had no idea even existed! I can’t help but think that everything about this movie is contributing to the ever-growing Andrew Garfield Renaissance that seems to be occurring. He even went on to win his first Golden Globe Award for the film, and in turn, is brewing a LOT of Oscar buzz as well. All in all, for musical theater and Andrew Garfield fans alike, Tick, Tick…Boom! is sure to make you smile, laugh, or cry– or all three. Make sure to watch it on Netflix before Oscar season rolls around. 

Caroline is currently a junior Communication Studies major with minors in Arts & Entertainment Management and History at Pace University in New York City. She specializes in writing about movies, television, music, and all things pop culture and thanks HerCampus for the chance to let her do so. Feel free to check out her Instagram @carolineggerman!
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