This musical adaptation is pure dynamite

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | Nov. 18, 2021

tick, tick… BOOM!
Netflix, Nov. 19

The best musicals have an element of tragedy sewn into them. In tick, tick… BOOM!, the tragedy comes from real life, where composer/playwright Jonathan Larson died the night before his biggest hit, Rent, opened on Broadway in 1996. Despite that unbearably sad turn, tick, tick… BOOM! is a joyful, profoundly satisfying experience.

First, some context. Larson wrote tick, tick… BOOM! in 1990 to describe his experience trying to get his previous musical Superbia (a futuristic rock retelling of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four) off the ground. Director Lin-Manuel Miranda takes this autobiographical nugget and runs with it, staging thrilling set pieces with emotionally charged performances and cameos by every Broadway star he could coax into appearing.

As the musical opens, the AIDS epidemic is raging. Broadway is trying to evolve, and Larson (Andrew Garfield, phenomenal) is freaking out. Days away from turning 30, the dramatist still works at a diner and fears he may join the ranks of promising young artists who never deliver.

After working on Superbia for eight years, Larson reaches a critical stage in the process: a workshop showcase for Broadway producers and kingmakers. The would-be auteur is ready, except for one key detail: he’s missing a pivotal song, and has less than a week to come up with a banger.

The same week, Larson’s personal life comes crashing down. His girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp, X-Men: Apocalypse) offers him a way out. Move to suburbia and take a teaching position alongside her. Jon is reluctant to agree, but how does he save his relationship without having to sell out?

Besides the insightful take on the creative process, tick, tick… BOOM! appeals to a highly relatable Gen-X neurosis: that nagging feeling that time is passing and you haven’t achieved anything. Instead, you’re missing generational milestones while pursuing some silly dream.

By keeping one foot in reality, Miranda sidesteps the most common complaint by people who dislike musicals: that they are too contrived. Hey, some people have no problem with the idea of scruffy street cats giving themselves fancy names. To each their own, I guess.

Without ever mentioning Rent by name (except in grating voiceovers at the beginning and end), the events in tick, tick… BOOM! set the stage for that award-winning musical: specifically, the staggering number of AIDS victims in New York’s artistic community, and the perennial challenge of artists trying to stay afloat hoping for a big break that seldom materializes.

If you’re only going for the music, tick, tick… BOOM! slaps. From the opening anthem “30/90” to the heartbreaking “Real Life”, there are no clunkers (okay, the hip-hop tune is not up to snuff). And one number, “Sunday”, features so many stage legends you’ll be left feeling giddy — unless you’re dead inside, that is.