Composer Jonathan Larson died at the tragically young age of 35. The autopsy showed that the cause of death was a a dissecting aortic aneurysm. This all happened just before his magnum opus “Rent” opened on 1996 and transformed the Broadway musical. One of the many young talents whose lives and careers were influenced and or changed by “Rent” was Lin-Manuel Miranda. Almost twenty years later in 2015 Miranda created his own pop culture phenomenon “Hamilton”, writing the script, music and lyrics. In 2008 he had already made a Broadway splash by staring in, and writing both the music and lyrics for “In The Heights”. This was released as a movie earlier this year.
Now, Lin-Manuel Miranda repays the complement, making his directorial debut adapting “tick, tick. Boom!”. It’s a tribute musical constructed around Larson’s songs and musings from the year 1990. He was about to turn thirty and was depressed that he had nothing to show for his efforts at this critical milestone. In fact, the movie is constructed as a flashback from 1992 when Jonathan performed his “rock monologue” “Tick, Tick….Boom” in front of an audience at the New York Theatre Workshop. Accompanied by his friends Roger (Joshua Henry) and Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens), he describes he events in the week leading up to his 30th birthday. The first song is appropriately titled ”30/90″
This sounds like a complex set-up, but Miranda’s movie works by keepings the basic storyline simple and low-key. He is helped immeasurably by a streamlined script courtesy of Steven Levenson (“Dear Evan Hansen”). And Andrew Garfield gives a wonderful performance by as Jonathan.
The Diner Ensemble.
As the seven day countdown begins, we see him juggling work at the Moondance Diner in SoHo. This is the setting for the song “Sunday” in which the “Diner Ensemble” is filled with New York musical theatre glitterati in everyday garb. You get to play spot the celebrity!
Bradley Whitford does a very credible impersonation of Larson’s idol Stephen Sondhiem who is wonderfully wise and encouraging. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp), frustrated by his indecisiveness and obsession with his career, breaks up with him (cue “Therapy”) while his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus), who left acting for the more lucrative career of advertising (cue “No More”) has just moved out of their shared apartment for flashier digs on the Upper East Side.
New York City Circa 1990.
And then there is the New York City of 1990. A city whose theatre community has been decimated by AIDS, and Jonathan struggles with the dichotomy of giving birth to a new musical while several of his friends have died or are dying (cue “Play Game”).
A Celebration of Life.
To the best of my knowledge, Andrew Garfield has never done musical theatre but he’s a natural or, at least, he’s a great actor playing a natural. His gangly frame moving with loose-jointed awkwardness is infectious and, whether behind or in front of the piano, he is the heart and soul of someone who lives for music. He can also carry a tune. Although we know the eventual outcome, there is no great tragedy awaiting us at the end of the movie. In fact, it is a celebration of the life of someone who has given joy to thousands of theatre and movie goers.