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Why Netflix's 'tick, tick... BOOM!' is the Best Musical Film of the Year

By InCinemas  /  19 Nov 2021 (Friday)

Another genre has finally come to supersede the superheroes at the cinemas – musical films! 

Countless adaptations of Broadway and original musicals have had the pleasure of gracing the big screens (and streaming platforms) this year. While not all have been as successful with the audiences, there are a couple of standouts that are some of 2021's best releases and definitely worthy contenders at awards season next year. One of which is Netflix's tick, tick... BOOM!

Here's why:

The Story

tick, tick... BOOM! is an autobiographical musical that composer and playwright Jonathan Larson wrote concurrently with Rent in the late 1980s to early ’90s. It was Larson’s response to his experiences writing his first musical, Superbia, which, despite having received positive feedback from Stephen Sondheim and others during workshops, ultimately went unproduced. This film adaptation is inspired by the original musical and follows a young composer named “Jon” over the course of the eight frenzied days leading up to a crucial workshop performance of his musical, Superbia

The story captures a specific time in Jon’s life when he finds himself at a crossroads that occurs for every artist. Says the film’s director, Lin-Manuel Miranda:

tick, tick... BOOM! is a corner of the world I know from every angle. I know what it’s like to be a struggling songwriter. I know what it is to be in your 20s writing that one musical, what it’s like to be in New York with a bunch of friends with artistic dreams and then watch them drop off one by one, to real life, while you’re still hanging on.

It’s a story of doubling down on your craft in the face of impossible odds, which is not unique to musical theater — it’s the struggle of any artist trying to make a living doing the thing they love.


The Director

Lin-Manuel Miranda's name is synonymous with musicals and Broadway. Having made a name for himself within the Broadway community after the success of his debut musical In The Heights, it wasn't until 2015's Hamilton that truly made him a household name. Since then, he has gone on to write music for and star in films. In this year alone, the actor-singer-songwriter is responsible for a total of four musical films! The film adaptation of his Broadway musical In The Heights (where he makes a cameo appearance on top of being credited as composer and producer), animated films Vivo and Disney's Encanto (both of which he composed music for but also lent his voice to in the former), and last but definitely not least – tick, tick.. BOOM!.

This film marks the directorial debut of the multi-hyphenated talent, a role that is undoubtedly a calling card meant for him. For anyone who's familiar with Miranda's work, his passion for musicals is unmatched. Thanks to Jonathan Larson's musical Rent, Miranda was able to see a clear path for himself in the industry. Larson's work sparked a dream in Miranda and kept it alive in moments of doubt. Being able to give back by telling Larson's story was a golden opportunity. It's safe to say this project was a labour of love for Miranda.

The Lead

To play the central role of Jonathan Larson, director Lin-Manuel Miranda looked to a performer who’s equally comfortable on stage as in front of a camera: Oscar nominee and Tony Award winner Andrew Garfield, whose career spans across Broadway, London’s West End, and Hollywood blockbusters.

Miranda said:

I have been blown away by Andrew since I saw him in Mike Nichols’ Death of a Salesman on Broadway, and I was convinced that he was my Jonathan after seeing his incredible performance in Angels in America.

Garfield didn’t know much about Jonathan Larson and hadn’t heard of tick, tick... BOOM! but Miranda was convincing enough to make the actor enthusiastic about the project. Garfield had actually learned how to sing for the film with the help of an array of teachers, led by famed vocal coach Liz Caplan. What’s more, he also learned to play the piano as Larson was an accomplished pianist! His deep understanding and nuanced portrayal of Larson has even been given the stamp of approval from Larson's sister, Julie.

Garfield said:

My relationship with musical theater, it just accelerated because of Lin and this film. It was a remarkable beginning to a thing that I never imagined would become such an important part of my own heart at this point.

Not having any prior relationship with Jonathan Larson apart from knowing about Rent and knowing some of the songs, to just having him in my system, haunting me in the best possible way — he’s a talisman for me now, in terms of how to live life as an artist.


The Cast

Opposite Garfield's Larson, tick, tick... BOOM!’s powerhouse ensemble cast includes:


Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon, X-Men: Apocalypse) who plays Jon’s girlfriend, Susan. A talented dancer who’s tired of paying exorbitant New York City rent, Susan receives an exciting offer to teach in the Berkshires, but finds her boyfriend skirting the issue every time she brings it up.

Known for her dramatic roles in film and television, Shipp’s singing chops were equally impressive. She has been a singer all her life, and starred as Aaliyah in the Lifetime biopic about the late singer.

Robin de Jesús, a three-time Tony nominee whose professional relationship with Miranda dates back to the original 2008 Broadway production of In the Heights, plays Michael, Jon’s best friend and roommate — an aspiring actor who chooses to leave the profession for a job in market research that affords him more stability in life. 

Not only has de Jesús known Miranda for many years, but his history with Larson’s work dates even further back, to de Jesús’s first professional acting job at the age of 21 – making his Broadway debut in Rent.

Tony nominee Joshua Henry and Rent alumnus Vanessa Hudgens round up the principal cast as Roger and Karessa, singers in Jon’s show.


With Emmy Award nominee MJ Rodriguez as Carolyn, a waitress and aspiring fashion designer at the Moondance Diner; Emmy Award winner Bradley Whitford as legendary composer Stephen Sondheim; and Tony and Emmy-winning actress Judith Light as Jon’s agent, Rosa Stevens.


The Music

A lot of hard work and research was put into building the perfect soundtrack for the film. While the film may have been based on existing musical, the same order of songs was not necessarily used. To provide a better gist of what this means, three original songs ended up being cut (though they are referenced in the film) while a couple of archived songs were reintroduced in the adaptation. Also featured is a rarely-heard song from Larson’s Superbia, the futuristic musical he worked on for eight years but was never produced.

To make it work,  Miranda gathered his musical team of Alex Lacamoire, Bill Sherman, Kurt Crowley, and Steven Gizicki to shape and give new life to the soundtrack. According to Gizicki:

Our source material was the original cast recording from the Off-Broadway production, as well as just mountains of Jonathan Larson demos and video footage, original sheet music, handwritten, all his materials from the archive.

If that ain't enough to convince you to watch the film..

tick, tick... BOOM! is now streaming on Netflix!
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