NEW YORK, NY.-
Lin-Manuel Mirandas new film adaptation of Tick, Tick
Boom! is the musical version of Rent creator Jonathan Larsons musical about writing a musical.
To clarify, that musical is not Rent. (Yes, our brains hurt, too.)
Tick, Tick ... Boom!, which premieres Nov. 12 in theaters and Nov. 19 on Netflix, portrays Larson (Andrew Garfield) and his efforts to find success in his late 20s. The audience watches him struggle to write Superbia, a retro-futuristic musical, while he frets about whether he should choose a more conventional career.
To help you keep Superbia (Larsons never-produced musical) straight from Tick, Tick ... Boom! (Larsons autobiographical show about writing Superbia) straight from Tick, Tick
Boom! (the new film that tells Larsons story), weve created this guide:
Who was Jonathan Larson?
The composer and playwright is best known as the creator of Rent, a musical loosely based on Puccinis 1896 opera, La Bohème.
But Larson never got to see the smash-hit success of his rock opera, which went on to win four Tony Awards. The composer died unexpectedly at age 35 in 1996 from an aortic aneurysm on the morning before the first off-Broadway preview of Rent and a few months before its Broadway debut.
But Rent was hardly his first musical and was, in many ways, shaped by an autobiographical show he was writing at the same time, about his struggles to write Superbia.
What was 'Superbia'?
No up-and-coming playwright in New York City is living in the lap of luxury, but Larsons digs were especially hardscrabble. He lived and worked in a fifth-floor walk-up in lower Manhattan, an apartment with no heat and a bathtub in the kitchen that he shared with two roommates and a couple of cats. He would write for eight hours on days off from his weekend job waiting tables at the Moondance Diner in SoHo.
The musical he was working on was Superbia (based on George Orwells dystopian novel 1984, even though he had been denied the rights). He won a number of grants and awards to continue writing the show, including the Richard Rodgers Development Grant, chaired by Stephen Sondheim, which paid for a workshop production at Playwrights Horizons in 1988.
But effort did not equal success. Although the music and lyrics won high praise among some downtown theater people, the show was considered too big and too negative, and no producer was ready to take it on, according to a 1996 article by Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times.
So, Larson decided to do a monologue.
Where does Tick, Tick ... Boom! come in?
Not dissuaded by the flop of Superbia, Larson began working on a new musical Rent as well as another idea: an autobiographical rock monologue that chronicled his struggles writing Superbia. Initially titled 30/90 because he was turning 30 in 1990 and then Boho Days, the one-man show that would later become Tick, Tick ... Boom! was first staged, starring Larson, in a 1990 workshop at the Second Stage Theater. The show part performance-art monologue, part rock recital captivated a young producer named Jeffrey Seller, who became a champion of Larsons work and later persuaded his fellow producers to bring Rent to Broadway.
But Boho Days was difficult to pull off: Larson had to nail long monologues, often while playing several characters; sing musical numbers that represented multiple points of view; and simultaneously accompany himself on the piano and direct his band through a score that was a combination of pop, rock and Sondheim pastiche.
Tommasini described the show as an intense, angry solo in which a man wakes on his 30th birthday, downs some junk food and complains for 45 minutes about his frustrated ambitions, turning 30 in the tenuous 90s and much more.
After the workshop, Larson continued to revise the piece, including changing the title to Tick, Tick ... Boom! a reference to the clock he felt was continually ticking on his life and career and presented it at New York Theater Workshop in 1992 and 1993. It was still a work in progress when he died in 1996, and he left behind at least five versions of the script and a bevy of song lists.
How did the solo show become a three-person musical?
After Larsons death in 1996, playwright David Auburn, who won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for Proof, revised the show as a three-person chamber musical that lessened the burden on the actor playing Jon. Now two additional actors played Michael, Larsons advertising-executive best friend, and Susan, his dancer girlfriend, in addition to each portraying a variety of ancillary roles. Songs were rearranged for three voices, although the music and lyrics remained Larsons.
With the permission of Larsons family, Auburn also excised most of Larsons references to his terror of growing older and the feeling of being under so much pressure that his heart was about to burst in his chest, which would only seem callous given the audiences knowledge of the composers fate.
The revised Tick, Tick ... Boom! premiered off-Broadway in 2001 at the Jane Street Theater, and went on to have a West End production, an off-West End production, two off-Broadway revivals, in 2014 and 2016, and an American national tour.
Reviews were positive, with New York Times critic Ben Brantley noting that the songs glimmer with hints of the urgency and wit that lend the musical score of Rent irresistible momentum.
Miranda who had found success with In the Heights but had not yet debuted his smash hit Hamilton played Jon in a 2014 revival at New York City Center, a performance that Times critic Charles Isherwood said throbs with a sense of bone-deep identification.
Isherwood pointed out that it hadnt been long since Miranda was teaching high school English while scribbling songs on the side, trying to make it as a musical-theater composer.
How does the film adapt all this?
Twenty years after seeing the off-Broadway revival of Tick, Tick ... Boom! as a 21-year-old theater major struggling to write In the Heights, Miranda directed the new film adaptation, which follows a young composer named Jon in the eight chaotic days leading up to a workshop production of his musical Superbia. As in the off-Broadway revival, Larsons rock monologue has been expanded, this time to a cast of more than a dozen characters. (Bradley Whitford now plays an encouraging Stephen Sondheim.) The film cuts between Jons performance of Larsons original staging of Tick, Tick ... Boom! and the story as it unfolds in real time.
Miranda has said the show is a combination of Larsons rock monologue, the 2001 off-Broadway revival, and a cinematic exploration of Larsons thought process. He used the Library of Congress archives to craft the films score entirely using Larsons music, both from Tick, Tick
Boom! and the composers larger body of work.
It was like we were putting together an original musical with Jonathan Larsons songs, Miranda told Entertainment Weekly, explaining the process as finding the best way to unlock the songs and stories.
Did Larson himself feel the urgency of his work? Sometimes it seems, to quote a Rent anthem, that he understood There was no day but today to do it.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times