“Tick Tick Boom” is Incredible. That Is All.


“Tick Tick Boom” release poster. Courtesy of IMDB

Alexander Blaide, Reporter

     Getting older is one of those things that we all dread. There’s no specific reason why we fear it, it just happens. You want to do all the things you set out to do and as you get older, it feels like you might not have enough time to do that, as if time itself is ticking down and you can feel it.

     “Tick Tick Boom” was the second musical of Jonathan Larson, a musical theater writer and part time waiter. Originally, the show wasn’t a musical; instead, it was actually a one-man show consisting of both monologues and songs. In it, Jonathan talks about his life as an aspiring composer and the stress of not doing anything of note by his 30th birthday. The show never saw more than Off-Broadway before being stopped to focus on Larson’s next show “Rent.” Unfortunately, the morning of “Rent’s” first Off-Broadway preview, Larson died from an aortic dissection, basically when blood seeps into the layers of the blood vessels, forcing them apart. He was just 10 days shy of his 36th birthday. Shortly after Larson’s death, fellow playwright David Auburn was asked to adapt the original “Tick Tick Boom” show into an actual play.

     In 2001, “Tick Tick Boom” opened Off-Broadway as a three actor musical starring Raul Esparza as Jon, Jerry Dixon as Michael, and Amy Spanger as Susan. The play follows the same autobiographical aspects of the one-man show and follows as Jon tries to get his own musical “Superbia” off the ground. At the same time, his best friend Michael has given up acting and pursued a career in marketing. Jon’s girlfriend Susan wants to leave New York City to be a dance instructor and Jon is struggling with how quickly his 30th birthday is arriving. As the “Superbia” workshop rehearsals get closer and closer, Jon and Susan split up. The workshop happens and no one wants to produce the show. Michael and Jon fight over Jon wanting to leave music behind because Jon feels that he has no more time, the argument ends with Michael saying he’s HIV-positive. The next day is the day Jon was dreading most; his 30th birthday has arrived. Jon decides to keep writing music after getting a call from Stephen Sondheim. 

     The 2001 cast album is available on Spotify and is a very good musical to listen to, but in 2018, Andrew Garfield was brought onto what would become Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, the 2021 film adaptation of “Tick Tick Boom.” This film is more based on the original one-man show that Larson wrote and stars Garfield as Jonathan Larson. Alongside Garfield, the film stars Robin de Jesus as Michael, Alexandra Shipp as Susan and Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa. The film follows as Jonathan struggles to finish his musical “Superbia” and make a name for himself. Along the way, he sees the flaws in the world and writes down his thoughts in a notepad, these themes eventually coming back into play in “Rent.” The film cuts between the actual movie and Andrew as Larson, so the film we see is what he talks about on stage, if that makes sense. Just like the one-man show, the movie has music all performed by the cast.

     The music is catchy and incredibly performed. The film immediately hooks you in with the opening number, “30/90,” a very catchy song lamenting getting older. All the music is very energetic and performed brilliantly, especially the two live songs in the film. “Boho Days” and “Why” were performed live by Garfield on set because of the weight the songs carried. Filmed in just two takes, the song “Why” is Jonathan questioning his decisions to write musical theater, especially after learning that his friend Michael was HIV-positive. Around the same time he filmed that scene, Andrew Garfield’s mom had passed away. In interviews, Andrew explained that he was singing that song for her. “Boho Days” is a song about living the life as a poor, creative individual and having to put up with terrible living conditions; for example, living with tons of roommates. The song was performed acapella and had to be done on set because of it. The other actors all sang their songs incredibly, especially Robin de Jesus and Alexandra Shipp. Alexandra only gets one song (it would be two, but the second song was cut) with “Come to Your Senses,” a song originally meant for “Superbia,” the musical that Jonathan is working on during the movie. The whole soundtrack is again available on Spotify and is a joy to listen to and perform.

     This film is available on Netflix and is incredible. Anyone who enjoys musicals and theater should just take some time and watch it. Upon watching the movie, you will see why Andrew Garfield was nominated for his Oscar. For the directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda, this film is a fantastic start to his directing career.