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Review: “tick, tick...BOOM!” is a hidden gem and an inspiration to artists

Lin-Manuel Miranda directs a biographical musical about Jonathan Larson and does justice to his memory.

By Natalie Metcalf, Staff Writer

Andrew Garfield surprises audiences with the voice of an angel in the opening song “30/90.” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Beautiful harmonies can be heard from The New York City skyline, while memorable music and an emotionally driven performance by Andrew Garfield appear in “tick tick...BOOM!”

Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his directorial debut in the Netflix original, “tick, tick...BOOM!” The film follows the life of composer Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), as he finishes his first musical “Superbia.” The young composer struggles to balance his relationships with his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) and girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), while also fine tuning “Superbia” and contemplating his career choice — all before turning 30 years old.

“With only so much time to spend, don’t wanna waste the time I’m given,” sang Garfield in the musical number “Why.” The music is inspiring, as is Larson’s story. This film does Larson’s memory justice, while Garfield brings an amazingly natural performance. Moviegoers will become emotional because of how well Garfield portrays the “boy genius,” which is what Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens) refers to him as.

The music was euphonious and delicately written. There are five songs that stood out in the film: “30/90,” “Sunday,” “Come to your Senses,” “Why” and “Louder than Words.” All of these songs are a part of the message of the story. “tick , tick...BOOM!” tells audiences that when time isn’t always on our side, it’s important to try our best.

Miranda shows a realistic portrayal of what living in New York is like in the 1990s, especially for struggling artists. Amazing practical and special effects shine in the diner where Larson works. The Moondance Diner opens from the front, making the diner look like a makeshift stage. The pool tiles at the recreation center Larson frequents, transform into bars of musical notes.

Great directing continues, as Miranda successfully shows the difference in atmosphere between a stage musical and a film musical.The film switches between Larson’s life and him performing the one night event of “tick, tick...BOOM!” to a half packed audience in a black box type theatre.

Tony Award winning stars take to the screen as customers in the Moondance Diner. Throughout the musical number “Sunday,” we see various broadway star cameos such as Bernadette Peters from “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods.” Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Jermaine Heredia from the original broadway cast of “Rent” also make appearances, as well as actors from “Hamilton” (which Miranda wrote) Phillipa Soo and Renee Elise Goldsberry.

Bradley Whitford does an extraordinary job of playing the late Stephen Sondheim, who composed “West Side Story,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods” and more. There is a great parallel between Larson and Sondheim, who both changed the definition of what makes a great musical. The two composers added their own style to their musicals and focused on themes that tackled social issues.

Larson wrote about social problems such as the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1990s. While “tick, tick...Boom!” is a biographical musical, the movie briefly mentions “Rent,” which is what Larson is widely known for. He composed “Rent” and passed away from an aortic dissection, before the musical's release in 1996. It was inevitable that “Rent” would be mentioned in the film, because the musical adds a nice comparison to Larson’s life.

“Fear or love,” sang Garfield, “Actions speak louder than words.” This couldn't be more relevant to today’s social problems and the struggles people are going through. “tick, tick...BOOM!” gives audiences hope and inspiration, even when the world may seem dark.

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