Earlier this year, Lin Manuel Miranda teamed with director Jon M. Chu to adapt his Broadway play, In The Heights. It was a musical tour de force of a summer musical which introduced bright new stars, fabulous music, and a remarkable story about a neighborhood in transition and the people who live there. For whatever reason, it was largely ignored. In promoting the film, Miranda talked about how his play cum movie was partially inspired by the work of another young playwright. That playwright was Jonathan Larson, and the play was Rent.
Regardless of how his film was received, Miranda didn’t complain. He didn’t have time. He had other irons in the fire. One of those irons was a film about that other young playwright, Larson. Miranda had a story to tell about how Larson dealt with being a struggling young playwright, all the while juggling a faltering romance, a distancing friendship, and all matter of turmoil swirling around him while trying to get his play, Superbia, produced.
Miranda, the producer, teamed with producer Julie Oh and executive producers Brian Glazer, Ron Howard, and screenwriter Steven Levenson (who wrote the screenplay earlier this year for the dismal Dear Evan Hansen). He assigned himself as a first-time director to bring this adaptation of Larson’s autobiographical play to the screen. Miranda, who had masterfully adapted his own music for In The Heights, has done the same for Larson’s music in tick, tick… BOOM!
Those of you sitting around waiting for him to appear or not in a forthcoming movie about a web-slinger are missing the boat. The he in him is Andrew Garfield, who puts on a masterful performance as Jonathan Larson. I don’t know about anybody else, but I never realized that Garfield could sing. Sing he does, for if you read the credits as I usually do, you’ll find that Garfield performed all the songs in the film. He was ably backed by Alexandra Shipp, who played Susan, his dancer girlfriend, who is dealing with her own career choices, and a boyfriend unable to have a difficult conversation. The voice of Susan is played by Vanessa Hudgins in Larson’s play, Superbia.
Yes, you see, Miranda has staged a musical within a musical because Superbia is the device that drives the plot of tick, tick… BOOM! forward. It takes a little bit to realize what is happening but when you do, the drama that unfolds before our eyes is deft and compelling without being maudlin. Robin de Jesus plays Larson’s childhood friend, Michael. He and Jonathan have known each other since the age of eight, and now Michael is dealing with Jon’s crisis of turning 30 —this was a thing in the 20th century— while dealing with a personal crisis of his own.
De Jesús gives such a heartfelt performance that it makes me want to cry every time I think about it. (Those are tears of joy and trepidation all mixed up together.) Two other noteworthy performances from the main cast. The first is Joshua Henry (Roger), whose powerful voice propels many of the songs in Superbia. The other is Jonathan Marc Schwartz, who plays Ira Weitzman, the owner of the rehearsal space who takes a chance on Larsen’s apparently over-produced musical.
The film is populated with a variety of cameos in the movie. You’ll be sitting there enjoying the story when you realize… wait a minute… isn’t that…? It doesn’t matter. Most, if not all, of the cameos are identified in the credits at the film’s end. Two significant “guest stars” of note: Judith Light, who plays Jon’s agent Rosa Stevens and a nearly unrecognizable Bradley Whitford playing playwright Stephen Sondheim. Whitford plays the role so understated that you hardly realize that it’s Whitford in there. Oh, and see if you spot Miranda’s Hitchcock moment in the film.
I’ve so enjoyed Lin Manuel Miranda’s productions this year that I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Encanto, which is premiering in theatres next Wednesday.
tick, tick… BOOM!, as far as I’m concerned, only suffers from a tad bit of confusion from what story is being told, but once you catch onto the story structure, it’s smooth sailing until the end. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, some suggestive material, and drug references, tick, tick… BOOM! played in theatres and is now appearing on Netflix.