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‘Rent’ creator’s story brought to life in ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’

"Rent" revolutionized theater, and now Netflix is bringing the story of its creator Jonathan Larson to a global audience with "tick, tick…BOOM!" Image credit: Macall Polay / Netflix
Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson in ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’ Image credit: Macall Polay / Netflix

“Rent” revolutionized theater, and now Netflix is bringing the story of its creator Jonathan Larson to a global audience with “tick, tick…BOOM!”

An adaptation of Larson’s autobiographical musical, “tick, tick…BOOM!” stars Academy Award nominee and Tony Award winner Andrew Garfield as the promising young theater composer Jon. Streaming on Netflix on Nov. 19, this film marks the feature directorial debut of Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner 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,” Miranda said in a press statement.

‘Can you sing?’

On the cusp of his 30th birthday, Jon navigates love, friendship, and the pressures of life as an artist in New York City.

“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,” Miranda said.

Garfield, whose career has spanned award-winning roles across Broadway, London theater productions, and Hollywood, learned how to sing for the film.

Miranda approached Garfield after seeing his performance in “Angels in America”. While pitching the role, Miranda asked Garfield if he could sing.

“I said, ‘Can you sing?’ And Andrew said, ‘When are you making the movie?’ I told him not for at least a year, because I had other commitments. And he goes, ‘A year, okay… Then, yes, I can sing,’” Miranda said.

The film follows Jon as he waits tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere: from his girlfriend Susan, who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City; from his friend Michael, who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security; amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have?

525,600 minutes

Andrew Garfield (left) with 'tick, tick... BOOM' director and producer Lin Manuel-Miranda. Image credit: Macall Polay / Netflix
Andrew Garfield (left) with ‘tick, tick… BOOM’ director and producer Lin Manuel-Miranda. Image credit: Macall Polay / Netflix

While staging and performing in his autobiographical musical “tick, tick…BOOM!”, Larson was also working on a rock opera called “Rent”, a musical loosely based on Puccini’s “La Bohème”.

On Jan. 25, 1996, Larson, 35, passed away on the morning of the first Off-Broadway preview show of “Rent”. It’s later determined that he suffered an aortic aneurysm caused by undiagnosed Marfan’s Syndrome.

“Rent” is a smash hit. Its arrival is an earth-shattering moment for musical theater and its fans, and forever changes the landscape of stories told on or off Broadway. Larson is posthumously awarded numerous Tony and Drama Desk Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. His dream of revolutionizing musical theater came true, but he didn’t live to see it.

On Jan. 16, 1997, Miranda attended a performance of “Rent” on his 17th birthday. This inspires him to begin writing one-act musicals.

Apart from Garfield, “tick, tick…BOOM!” stars Alexandra Shipp, Tony Award nominee Robin de Jesús, Tony Award nominee Joshua Henry, Emmy Award nominee Mj Rodriguez, Emmy Award winner Bradley Whitford, Tariq Trotter a.k.a. Black Thought of The Roots, with Emmy and Tony Award winner Judith Light, and Vanessa Hudgens. 

The film is written by Tony Award winner Steven Levenson, and produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard for Imagine Entertainment, Julie Oh, and Miranda.