Tick, Tick...Boom! (M, 120 minutes)
One of Broadway's most successful composers, the genius behind the musical Rent Jonathan Larson, never really felt the warmth of his success.
Rent debuted on Broadway in 1996 and remains on stages around the world today, with the Broadway production earning its composer not only a series of Tony Awards, but also a Pulitzer.
But Larson died of heart failure the day before its Broadway debut, and the lyricist in him would have loved the wordplay of how heart-breaking this was.
For this modern-day remake of La Boheme, Larson drew heavily on his own experiences of barely scraping by in New York for Rent. But success often has its roots in failure, and that is the story that another big Broadway name brings to the screen in Tick, Tick... Boom!
The film adapts an earlier Jonathan Larson musical, an autobiographical piece the composer developed after experiencing utter disappointment when an earlier play of his failed to get produced.
Originally titled "Boho Days" and performed as a solo piece in a style he dubbed "rock monologue", Larson performed and evolved this one-man show in the early 90s and it enjoyed a handful of stageings.
This film version is performed in part in that first-person style, with British actor Andrew Garfield doing the "performing" of his work-in-progress production, and at other times we enjoy a more traditional filming approach to the narrative Garfield/Larson describes.
Struggling composer Larson is working on a piece called "Superbia", based on George Orwell's 1984, hoping to get it produced. Mostly, he's obsessed with the lack of propulsion in his career, with his 30th birthday fast approaching.
He works weekend waiting shifts at the Moondance Diner, and his weekdays are taken up with his artistic struggle. His distractions are his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) and his dancer girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp).
Behind the camera, Lin-Manuel Miranda is thoroughly at home with his subject, having performed the work himself off-Broadway in 1994, long before he would hit mega-stardom with his own musical Hamilton.
This is Miranda's directorial debut and he does a serviceable enough job. His talent is undeniable, and he will build his skills in filmic language in time, hopefully approximating his genius in spoken language. What he does imbue this production with is a love for all things Broadway, told through in-jokes, visual references, and through Larson's original dialogue and music.
Working from a screenplay by Steven Levenson, writer of the terrific Fosse/Verdon mini-series from a few years back, this production takes the action out of Larson's head and single-person storytelling and handing support roles to a range of notables.
Amongst these is Bradley Whitford's Stephen Sondheim - the real Sondheim was a mentor and supporter to the struggling Larson, and the song "Sunday" in this film/show is a take on Sondheim's own song of the same name.
The song "30/90", one of the earlier names for Larson's play/performance, takes on that idea of his approaching milestone birthday timed with the upcoming year. The real-life Larson would be impressed by its lushness. A quick YouTube of his own staged versions show how much difference throwing money at something makes.
The pipes on Andrew Garfield are impressive. The Spiderman actor isn't a trained singer, or at least wasn't before he took the role. Any imperfection works for his character - there's usually a reason a composer hires better, professional voices to bring their works to life.
Musicals are a thing you either love or hate. Plenty of people can't suspend their disbelief enough to allow this idea of people just breaking into song. But setting your musical amongst a bunch of singers, composers and theatre people doing a show makes it partially plausible. Others will find those moments full of smug self-indulgence, and they're frankly not wrong.
- Tick,Tick ...Boom! is in cinemas, and launches on Netflix November 19.