‘tick, tick… BOOM!’ blows theatre fans expectations

Written By Kylie Thomas, Co-Features/A&E Editor

4.5 Globes

If you were a queer theatre kid in high school like me, you probably lived and died by the musical “Rent.” With rock-opera musical influences and a progressive LGBTQIA+ storyline, Jonathan Larson truly pioneered the theme songs to so many modern teen lives. But before “Rent,” before everyone recognized the name Jonathan Larson, he wrote the musical called “tick, tick… BOOM!” Not nearly as well known as “Rent” but just as life-changing, it details the story of creator Larson in his time as a musical theatre writer. And with a recent movie adaptation starring Andrew Garfield and directed by “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel-Miranda, everyone may just finally learn the story of Larson’s musical genius.

“tick, tick… BOOM!” essentially follows Larson as he tries to write a dystopian rock-opera musical called “Superbia” that he hopes will change the face of Broadway. The issue is on top of still missing the most important song in the musical, he’s also facing pressures from his love life, friendships, work and his own mental wellbeing. It’s truly a story of the young, but quickly aging, artist’s journey of living the bohemian life in New York City.

The story is told through Larson as he seems to be premiering his latest musical. The audience is taken through Larson’s struggle with his girlfriend Susan as he chooses between their future together and his own career, and the story even outlines his connection to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 80s as many of his closest friends contract the virus.

The storyline is heart wrenching and sucks any viewer into the world of New York City with its relatable theme of trying to chase your dreams. In my eyes, it’s a story that captures the hearts of college students especially since we’re at that time in our lives where we’re constantly contemplating what to do with our future. However, this version of “tick, tick… BOOM!” is an adaptation of the original musical by Larson; so instead of critiquing the storyline, there are other elements that need to be looked at.

The adaptation itself is beautifully done in a tasteful way that doesn’t try to cram in famous actors with no musical talent to fulfill the roles. It shows a respect to Larson and the cast doesn’t try to change the overall scope of the characters while still making the roles their own. For instance, Garfield follows closely with Larson’s original movements and infliction, but he adds certain personal emotional touches with his monologues to embellish his role.

The cast is one of the most exceptional parts of this movie. Larson is played by Garfield and when that casting first came out, many theatre kids were nervous if his voice would be able to handle the extreme vocals. However, Garfield proves with this role that he’s a versatile actor that can not only play a serious role but even keep up with some great musical stars vocally. His emotion and true dedication to Larson’s spiraling crisis pulls the audience in and reflects his emotions onto the viewer. You’re no longer watching Garfiled play a role, you’re watching Larson in the flesh.

Garfield is backed up by Alexandra Shipp who plays his love interest, Susan, Robin de Jesús who plays his best friend Michael and even Vanessa Hudgens who plays one of his actresses and friend. The connection that these actors have to each other strengthens the plot and brings these characters to life as real people. They’re three-dimensional much like the characters in “Rent,” and I think that’s part of the reason that I formed an attachment to them so easily.

It’s hard to explain in words the magical element “tick, tick… BOOM!” carries that makes the film so special, but the easiest way to put it is that it’s truly a work of art. The acting, music, character development and sheer passion weaved into every stitch of the film are so carefully crafted. It’s these elements that allow the movie to shine as one of Netflix’s best musical adaptations thus far. In a time where people are struggling to find themselves, films like this one are more important than ever.