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January 18, 2022
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Life & Culture

Review: Lin-Manuel Miranda makes excellent feature debut

Tick, Tick ... Boom

Netflix

For a man who has no experience directing movies, television or musicals, Lin-Manuel Miranda keeps “Tick, Tick … Boom!” from bombing. Taking a show from the stage and delivering it to the big screen can be difficult — think the 2019 “Cats” movie — but it seems as though Miranda’s stage musical expertise helped him bring Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical musical to life.

The original “Tick, Tick … Boom!” musical was written by Jonathan Larson, who was also the creator of the more popular musical “RENT.” Larson died Jan. 25, 1996, the day before “RENT” made its first off-Broadway preview. The musical follows Jon (Andrew Garfield) who is an aspiring composer living in New York City in 1990 while working on his musical “Superbia” to be performed in a workshop. Jon has never had a musical go past the workshop phase, but he is on the verge of a breakthrough. While writing, he is juggling working at the Moondance Diner, relationship issues with his girlfriend, Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and the ongoing AIDS crisis rocking New York City. The story itself is autobiographical, however, Larson stated that some parts have been more fictionalized. The stage musical has never reached the Broadway stage but has been performed off-Broadway, offWest End, West End and has had an American National Tour. 

Garfield has never had a singing role before playing Jon in “Tick, Tick … Boo!” However, he has had experience with Broadway before when he performed a speaking role in “Angels in America.” Despite this, Garfield manages to draw the audience in with his strong voice and character. One of Garfield’s stand-out songs is “Why.” The song is filled with emotion as Jon sings about his friendship with Michael (Robin de Jesus) — who has just been diagnosed with HIV — and is just Garfield with a piano accompaniment. Throughout the entire movie, Garfield finds a balance of putting just enough emotion into his singing to be powerful and meaningful.

Miranda’s directing skills are not perfect, but for his first directing credit, he manages to create some beautiful scenes. Not everyone can adapt a stage show to the big screen, but Miranda puts a clear amount of effort into the film’s look. Most notably, scenes like the “Sunday” sequence shot in the Moondance Diner look like a Broadway production. The actors — all of them Broadway cameos — do not have much dancing during the scene, but they are placed around the set and the minimal choreography work together to make the viewer feel like they are watching a stage production. Miranda knows what a Broadway show looks like and how the actors move and work with each other, and he brings that to the screen. 

“Tick, Tick … Boom!” also has its fair share of famous cameos — mainly Broadway stars. Fans of Larson’s work, specifically “RENT,” may have noticed Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wilson Jermaine Heredia in the “Sunday” scene. The three actors originated the roles of Roger, Mimi and Angel in “RENT.”

Throughout the movie, Stephen Sondheim is played by Bradey Whitford — who has performed in many off-Broadway shows, but is most known for his role as Josh Lyman in “The West Wing” — but Sondheim leaves Jon a message after his workshop telling him he loved the performance and looks forward to what Jon will do next. Sondheim was an inspiration to both Jon in the show and the real-life Larson. Sondheim recently died Nov. 26 at the age of 91.  

While it was interesting and surprising to see so many Broadway stars throughout the movie — especially stars who were involved with “RENT” — at times it felt overdone including so many people. It may not have been necessary to include so many different people. 

“Tick, Tick … Boom!” is a movie full of surprise cameos and Broadway nods. Miranda’s experience on Broadway enables him to create a successful stage-to-screen adaptation and Garfield — along with his supporting cast — draws the audience in and begs them to learn more about the man behind one of Broadways biggest hits.