Tick, Tick… Boom! is a musical drama film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and based on the semi-autobiographical musical of the same name by Jonathan Larson. This is Miranda’s directorial debut and one of his favorite musicals, which he mentioned having watched repeatedly in the 1990s while at college and also played Jon in a version of the stage play. The film stars Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, and Robin de Jesus.
The story follows the life of aspiring composer Jon, struggling to make a name for himself in New York City in the 1990s. He is faced with a deadline to complete his musical on his upcoming 30th birthday, and as the clock ticks down, he must confront his doubts and fears about his artistic ambitions and relationships. This movie talks about dreams, commitment, and facing the reality of the times. And, of course, is almost a love letter from Miranda and the musical theater world to Jonathan Larson, who passed away without witnessing the success of his most famous musical: Rent. The version of Rent that we know nowadays was not presented before his death on January, 25th 1996.
Let’s check some main differences between the film and the stage version of Tick, tick…Boom!
The Story Narration Differs
Superbia was a rock musical Larson wrote between 1983 and 1990. Rock musicals were not a very popular genre, which made the approval and the reception of the songs and story as a whole – a futuristic world based on George Orwell’s book 1984 – not what the author expected. Therefore, Tick, tick…Boom! was created as a form of reflection and a way for Jonathan to express himself by talking about this musical that never was, narrating the scenes and leading us through that period of his life. On the stage, it was just Larson, an actress for his girlfriend Susan, and an actor for his best friend Michael. He would spend much of the story in front of a piano, with a very restricted scenery.
In the movie adaptation, Lin-Manuel Miranda chose to work with two stories at the same time. The dramatic adaptation of the events and the stage version intertwine the two in songs. So, the character on the stage would sometimes comment on things happening in the adaptation as we watch it unfold. A great choice to make the story more diegetic and explain why Larson created this musical all at once.
Superbia’s New Song Doesn’t Exist in the Stage Version
As Superbia‘s workshop gets closer, Jonathan struggles to finish the songs and wrap up the music while dealing with a lot of pressure on his personal life and the ticking clock of his 30th birthday on his head. That’s when his agent, Rosa Stevens (Judith Light ), calls him, saying they need a last song. This leads Jon to painful moments staring at the blank page of his old computer, writing some thoughts in his notebook and wondering if he can do it. Then, at the climax of the movie , and on the night before the workshop, he comes up with “Come to Your Senses”, a beautiful song about independence, stability, passion, and fear.
This beautiful moment serves as a great plot point and narrative engine, but it doesn’t happen at the stage play. The song is still there, but there is no big search to write it, no big cathartic moment where this song encapsulates tiny moments or hints left throughout the story for it to come as a whole in the presentation.
Some Characters Get More Than Just a Mention in the Movie
Stephen Sondheim met Jonathan Larson when the former was still at college (Larson wrote a fan letter to him). At the end of Superbia’s workshop, he phones Jon to recognize his talent, praising his work and encouraging him to keep writing. This happens in both versions of Tick, tick…Boom!, but while in the play this is a mere mention, we have a cameo where Bradley Whitford plays Sondheim in the movie. Although, in the last scene, during the phone call, that was Sondheim’s real voice that we hear.
And he is not the only nod to the musical theater community and legends throughout the movie. During the song “Sunday”, in the diner where Jonathan works, Miranda worked to produce a whole number with the biggest number of theater stars he could find. So you’ll get to see André de Shields (Hadestown, The wiz), Bebe Neuwirth (A Chorus line, Chicago), Beth Malone (Fun Home), Chita Rivera (West Side Story), Howard McGillin (Phantom of the Opera), Reneé Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo (Hamilton), and even a quick director’s cameo where Lin-Manuel Miranda appears as the chef working in the diner.
Really a beautiful number to celebrate musical theater, Jonathan Larson’s work and the infinite possibilities that movie adaptations can offer.