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Review: 'tick, tick...BOOM!'

There are more than a few reasons to see tick, tick…Boom!

For starters, it’s a movie musical about Jonathan Larson the creative genius behind the breakout Broadway hit Rent.

More specifically, it’s a movie based on a musical about the failed musical project that preceded Rent.

It was a project that Jonathan Larson worked on for eight long years while he worked in a New York diner, waiting tables and dreaming of success.

Face it, cities like New York and Los Angeles are brimming with young would-be creative geniuses who are working menial, poverty-level jobs in the hopes of someday, somehow gaining attention and respect and making it big.

They are filled with self-confidence, determination and drive. It’s what keeps them going.

When asked who they are, they respond with a line like the one that the Jonathan Larson character Jon utters to a stranger at a party, “I am the future of musical theater!”

Remarkably, there are those rare instances in which the person making this kind of bold, egotistical prediction actually has the raw talent and perseverance to back it up.

tick, tick…Boom! is that kind of story.

It marks the directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda who is no stranger to blockbuster Broadway hits and his own personal struggle to bring Hamilton to life. It exploded onto the stage and catapulted Lin-Manuel to instant stardom. He is immensely talented, on stage and now on the big screen.

tick,tick,,,Boom! has all the trappings of a film made by a veteran film director. It’s an impressive first film with tons of control and finesse.

The staging and camerawork are solid. The match-cutting is precise. Miranda demonstrates that he has the chops to both understand and implement what works in cinema, from the staging and direction to the lighting and shooting, to the editing and mixing.

There is a raw energy to his work. At the root of it is a knock-out performance from Andrew Garfield who stars as Jon. While Garfield is a veteran of stage and screen at a relatively early age, tick,tick…Boom! marks his singing debut. Casting him was a bit of a gutsy move since so much of the movie rests on his ability to sing and dance. Lin-Manuel Miranda's instincts were spot on.

Alexandra Shipp stars as Susan, Jon’s girlfriend, a struggling dancer, who is supportive early on, before adding additional pressures to Jon’s stressed-out existence. Vanessa Hudgens, of High School Musical fame plays Karessa, a singer in the musical the film portrays.

As the title implies, the proverbial clock is ticking down and Jon is facing a very serious deadline to present his big, breakout project. In particular, he needs to write one critical song that his friends feel is necessary.

Even the acclaimed Broadway composed Stephen Sondheim agrees that it’s what is missing. The pressure to write the song as precious time is running out becomes insurmountable and, of course leads to the kind of massive writer’s block that we’ve seen in other movies like Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963).

The clock is ticking down in so many other ways in tick,tick…Boom! It’s set in the early 1990s when AIDS was beginning to set a grim countdown clock for members of the gay community. One of Jon’s closest childhood friends tests HIV Positive, making Jon aware of a dark, growing reality that would begin to shatter his world and inform his later work.

There is a lot going on in tick,tick…Boom! The struggles. The relationships. And the relentless, mounting pressure of a rapidly approaching deadline. At moments like that, the universe can deal some painful kicks in the teeth like a crippling power cut off, triggered by unpaid electric bills that shuts down Jon’s MacIntosh computer.

The movie does a good job of bringing to light the myriad of crushing obstacles that stand in the way of passionate young artists like Jon. And the hard, sometimes bitter lessons that are learned along the way.

Despite the seriousness of the story line, tick,tick…Boom! manages to be an enjoyable movie musical, overall. In the grand scheme of things, the songs and numbers here may never reach the level of mega-successful musicals like the ones that Jon reveres and cherishes in the movie.

At one point of the story when Jon is out of money and desperate for cash, he decides to sell his books and vinyl albums at a used bookstore. At the very last minute, he decides that he can’t part with his LP of Godspell, an indispensable source of inspiration.

In the long run, tick, tick…Boom! may not be remembered for the songs or dance numbers. It will probably not have the lasting impact of Godspell. But what it will be remembered for is its heartfelt tribute to a remarkable young man who rose above all the adversity and pushback to become a renowned and respected member of the Broadway community.

Tragically, Jonathan Larson never lived to see the realization of his dream. He died of a sudden aortic aneurism the night before the first public performance of his greatest work, Rent, which went on to change the future of musical theater just as Jon had predicted.

He was just 35 years old.


tick, tick...Boom! is in select theaters and on Netflix now.

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