Tick, Tick…BOOM: a heartfelt tribute and an explosion of genius

February 22 2022, by Millie Cooper

Since Tick, Tick…BOOM! was released in November 2021 on Netflix and a few selected cinemas it has taken the world by storm. In a year that saw the release of Dear Evan Hansen, In The Heights, and Encanto, Tick, Tick…BOOM! has received a some serious buzz, especially on TikTok. This is possibly due to the undebatable dreaminess of Andrew Garfield (Spiderman, Hacksaw Ridge), but nevertheless Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In The Heights, Moana, etc.) has directed, and cameoed in, yet another fantastic and moving movie-musical that is stuffed with some immediate add-to-playlist songs. It is the perfect movie for musical-theatre-kids but also for people who are particularly fond of Marvel, High School Musical, or simply slightly depressing movies. You don’t need a degree in music, theatre or movies to know that this was truly sensational.   

For some context, Tick, Tick…BOOM! is Jonathan Larson’s (Rent) semi-autobiographical musical that follows him as he turns 30 in the year 1990 whilst struggling to pay rent and electricity bills, and to write his sci-fi musical, Superbia. Larson feels like a complete failure because he is unable to finish the musical and get it off the ground; his girlfriend, Susan (Alexandra Shipp – who is incredible to say the least), has needs, which are perfectly reasonable, might I add; and his agent, Rosa, hasn’t called him in a year. His best friend Michael (played by the fabulous Robin de Jesús) ditched showbiz to work for a cushy advertising firm and moves out of their apartment. Larson’s circle of friends is being hit by the AIDS endemic whereas he’s been struck by acute writer’s block. He’s only 30, but he is certain that his life kinda sucks (makes me feel great about turning 17 in March). 

It’s not a secret that Jonathan Larson’s musical writing skills are out of this world and, with the aid of Steven Levonson’s fantastic screenplay and Alice Brooks’ cinematography, Tick, Tick…BOOM! is undoubtably one of the best movie-musicals to be released in the last few years (a big statement from someone who has re-watched all three Pitch Perfects enough times to know all the choreography). Whilst Lin-Manuel Miranda has been on a twisty-turny roller-coaster of love and hate from Gen Z (long story), he has pulled it out of the bag with this one. Do we have to credit him for not casting himself as Larson? Yes. Very much so. But was his cameo in the star-studded musical number “Sunday” just the right amount of LMM for one film? Maybe? I’m a little undecided.

Speaking of cameos, Miranda has packed this film with his Broadway buddies and I’m all here for it. The scene “Sunday in the Diner with Jon”, which is set in the Moondance Dinner where Larson worked in New York City, showcases Miranda’s envious web of Broadway talent. They play the customers at the Moondance as Larson breaks into the musical number “Sunday”. My personal favourite appearances are of course Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry, who play the original Eliza and Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton. They’re featured in the pale blue and coral that the sisters wear in Hamilton, and even do the pose that can be seen on various posters for the show (when I say I was screaming, I mean that I was screaming). Thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda!

Honestly, nothing could really top that cameo for me but I’ll allow a couple honourable mentions. I would like to personally thank Bernadette Peters (original Broadway production of Into the Woods and five-time Tony winner), and Howard McGillan (original and longest running Phantom in Phatom of the Opera) for making an appearance in this film. *Literal chef’s kiss*. Of course we cannot forget Chita Rivera (Chicago, West Side Story), Joel Grey (Cabaret), Adam Pascal (Rent), Daphne Rubin Vega (Rent), and Wilson Jermaine Heredia (you guessed it, Rent) among the rest of Broadway and the West End’s finest for taking the time to raise this already really good film to a whole new level. Okay, yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda can be seen as a chef in the dinner during “Sunday” and you can hear his distinctive voice for maybe five seconds over everyone else singing and I might have gotten a liiiiittle ick for the movie, but I was quickly reminded that Andrew Garfield is the lead role in this and it features Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry only a few moments prior so all was forgiven. 

Other notable names that feature in the Writers Workshop scene are Alex Lacamoire (musical director for Hamilton, In the Heights), Steven Schwartz (composer for Wicked, Pocahontas) and the voice of Stephen Sondheim himself (do I need to explain?) in phone messages sent to Larson. Also Kate Rockwell (Mean Girls the Musical) made a quick appearance during the Workshop for Superbia scene – just me? Ok. Regardless of whether you could draw a detailed portrait for each or you have absolutely no clue who any of these people are (which is kind of rude), it’s impossible to argue against this film being spot on with its cameos. Some films and TV shows feature rather unnecessary cameos (I’m talking about Micheal Jackson in MIB2 and Donad Trump in Home Alone 2 to be precise); others do a much better job for the most part – Jimmy Buffet holding two margaritas whilst escaping dinosaurs in Jurassic World; Patrick J. Adams making a random appearance in Pretty Little Liars; Daniel Craig as a stormtrooper in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But I, without a doubt, can say that Tick, Tick…BOOM! does an impeccable job at chucking in a few familiar faces here and there.

The acting in Tick, Tick…BOOM! is superb, but this is a music blog and luckily there is something about the music that words truly cannot describe. But I will try. The voices on some of these actors! No one really knew Garfield could sing so when his masseuse, Gregg Miele, was giving Lin-Manuel Miranda a deep tissue rub and was asked if Garfield could sing, he immediately responded with “he has THE voice”. Luckily, he does and the world was gifted with Garfield singing a musical written by the late-great Jonathan Larson that, asides from a couple off-Broadway/West End never really made it far. Sometimes, you really do need a friend who can lie for you.

I have three favourite songs: “30/90”, “Green, Green Dress”, and “Come to Your Senses”. I mean, I like all of the songs, especially “Therapy” which is hilarious and obviously “Sunday” is a great musical number, but these three stick to you in all the right ways. Trust me, if you want a snippet of the movie or need a favourite for yourself – allow me to convince you that these are all you will ever need. 

“30/90”, the opening musical number, played religiously on all social media platforms for maybe a month and with good reason. Larson sings about turning 30 in 1990 and thus his life is over. He would much rather “lay down and cry” than have to listen to his friends singing “happy birthday”. The lyrics are depressing if you look at them in depth, but this is contrasted with the songs key – C major. It constantly feels like it’s speeding up, imitating a feeling of spiralling out of control and feeling like everything is over. And that is exactly how Larson felt. In his monologue leading up to the number, he speaks of other famous composers who had done incredible things before turning 30, like his mentor Stephen Sondheim, yet here he is unable to finish Superbia. Since the movie’s release, various recordings of Larson himself have been put in side-by-side comparisons with Garfield’s performance in “30/90”. Garfield has perfectly captured the mannerisms of Larson throughout this song, and there is no doubt that he was the perfect person to play Larson. Yes, they are a little exaggerated in comparison to the recording but that’s acting. The bridge is pure magic and transports you to a Never Never Land and Oz where things have gone a bit wrong, to say the least. Overall, “30/90” in near-perfection, minus points for being TOO catchy and I haven’t stopped replaying it over and over in my head since November. Seriously though, I need to get work done.

Am I cheating with “Green, Green Dress” because it’s a bonus track and only features in the credits? Actually, don’t answer that – “Green, Green Dress” is the creme-de-la-creme of Larson’s writing in my opinion. It’s a duet between Jonathan and Susan (the girlfriend with perfectly reasonable needs) on the rooftop of his apartment building. Or at least, that is how it goes as a musical number in the various productions since 2001. Instead of a bouncy, sweet and romantic duet, the song has been was covered by Joshua Henry and played whilst Jon and Susan spent time together (this is family show people, work it out for yourselves. My Grandmother reads these!). Yeah, the green, green dress doesn’t exactly hug her silhouette for too long. But if you ignore that minor detail, they are a sweet couple in that moment and it’s pretty clear that Larson is infatuated by her. Whilst their relationship doesn’t keep to the straight and clear path as their wants and needs pull them in different directions, this moment is cute and the title gives you two Wordle-starting-words if anything. Anyways… “Green, Green Dress” (the bonus track version, btw), with its catchy melodies and harmonies is one of my favourite songs and I don’t care if it’s technically cheating.

If you haven’t watched the film, maybe don’t read this next paragraph. Alternatively, just watch the film…

No good musical is complete without the rich, emotional and somewhat slightly depressing song or, its technical name, “the 11 o’clock number”: Cats has “Memory”; Thoroughly Modern Millie has “Gimme, Gimme”; Wicked has “No Good Deed”. In Tick, Tick…BOOM!, it’s “Come to Your Senses” and it’s all that an 11 o’clock number should be. It’s sung by Karessa Johnson (Vanessa Hudgens – there’s the High School Musical reference from the intro), who is a talented singer and friend of Larson, as the answer to the Act 2 finale number for Superbia. However, Larson can only see Susan/perfectly reasonable now-ex-girlfriend singing on his apartment rooftop, so it turns into a bit of a duet between the two incredible singers. The song itself is pretty heart-breaking when it’s sung from Susan’s point of view rather than Karessa/character-in-Superbia, because she was strung along by Jonathan who wanted to finish the musical and stay near Broadway. On the other side, there’s Vanessa/Karessa who sings in the workshop yet the emotion is still there. If you’re like me and grew up with HSM, it was a little hard to disconnect Hudgens with Gabriella Montez but nevertheless she was still soaring and flying through this song. You can sing it as a solo – actually I first heard this song when my singing teacher showed it to me before I had finished the movie – but whoever on the Tick, Tick…BOOM! creative team turned it into a duet, thank you! It’s pretty much perfect.

So, if the last 1881 words haven’t convinced you, Tick, Tick…BOOM! is fantastic and Andrew Garfield captures Jonathan Larson so well it could’ve been a live performance from Larson himself; it’s no wonder he’s Oscar nominated for the role. Personally, if I were handing out the awards, it would have to go to Alexandra Shipp for her striking performance and beautiful voice, especially in “Come to Your Senses”. “Sunday” takes top prize for best scene with it’s exciting musical number and cameos from Broadway legends. Lin-Manuel Miranda truly can brag all he wants about this movie-musical because it really did go BOOM!

Millie Cooper, L6

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