Tick, Tick… Boom! pays tribute to talented playwright

Article and graphic by Rubi Melo

Many people are raving over the new Netflix original movie, Tick, Tick… Boom!. It has become very popular on social media, particularly Tik Tok, as I have seen countless clips of scenes and heard songs from the movie many times on my for you page. The movie is a remake of playwright and composer Jonathan Larson’s semi autobiographical rock musical Tick, Tick… Boom! 

While some people may have heard the songs from the new movie and instantly recognized them from Larson’s musical, others, like myself, may have learned about Jonathan Larson and his work for the first time. I am by no means well versed in the world of musical theater and I don’t know many of the big names, but it was fascinating to learn about Larson and how he was inspired by the world around him. For those who are unfamiliar with Jonathan Larson’s work, one of his most popular musicals was Rent, which is about a group of young aspiring artists in New York struggling to get by. The musical discusses important topics such as LGBTQ+ rights and addresses the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Larson unfortunately passed away from an aortic aneurysm the night before the musical was to preview.

The original Tick, Tick… Boom!  was performed by Larson himself while playing the piano on a simple stage with a band and a few other singers. However, the new movie, directed by Lin Manuel-Miranda, is a depiction of the story that is told in the musical. 

The story follows Jon Larson (played by Andrew Garfield) as he struggles to complete his musical “Superbia”. He expects that his musical, once finished, will be his big break and someone will want to produce it and take it to Broadway. However, he faces many conflicts in the midst of writing it as he becomes so enthralled in his art that he begins to neglect things happening around him and his relationships with people he cares about. His girlfriend, Susan (played by Alexandra Shipp), does her best to support him as he works on his passion project but finds it hard to stand by his decisions as he is struggling financially and spends all his time writing his songs. His only job is working at the Moondance Diner, he avoids paying his bills, and will soon not be able to afford to live in his apartment as his roommate and best friend, Michael (played by Robin de Jesus), will soon move out.

The songs that Larson wrote for Tick, Tick… Boom! Are entirely influenced by his real life, each song is an anecdote that talks about a specific occurrence or relationships with the people around him. 

The song “Johnny Can’t Decide” is about how Larson is torn between his dreams of making it big as a writer, settling down with his girlfriend and having a more stable life like his friend Michael who makes good money working in advertising. He knows that Susan is losing patience with him and that she wants to move somewhere else where they can live together and be happy, but Jonathan simply can not give up on his dream or on “Superbia” which he had been working on for eight years. He’s also somewhat envious of Michael who seems as though he’s got it all: a fancy new apartment, a job that pays five figures (which was a lot more than Jon was making), and a seemingly stable life.

The movie has other hit songs including “30/90” and “Therapy”. 

“30/90”, which is one of the most popular songs from the soundtrack, is about how Jonathan Larson was soon to turn 30, and was dreading it as he hadn’t finished his musical yet. He felt that time was running out for him to make his mark because most of his role models, Stephen Sondheim, for example, were younger than thirty when their work became popular. The song is comical in a way, as one of the lines is, “Friends are getting fatter, hairs on your head getting thinner”. 

The song “Therapy” is about Jon and his girlfriend, Susan arguing. The actual lyrics of the song don’t have much to do with the specific issues that their relationship has, in fact Larson introduces it to the audience as “scenes from a modern romance as told in song”. It is a fairly comical song about a couple arguing before they go to therapy the next day, with long run-on sentences, and a fast tempo that resembles an upbeat country song.

All in all, Tick, Tick… Boom! is an entertaining musical whether you are familiar with the story and Jonathan Larson’s work or not. The songs, which are all extremely fun to sing along to, range from being lighthearted and funny, to being emotional and tear-jerking. The movie is definitely worth the watch and you will certainly want to download the soundtrack afterward.

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