“Tick, Tick… Boom!,” was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut and it was released shortly before Stephen Sondheim died. Sondheim passed a week after the movie’s release, and while he is not the central character of the movie, his influence on generations of aspiring songwriters is still deeply entangled within the film.
The movie follows Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”) as he workshops his rock musical Superbia, a project he has been working on for years. He aspires to become the next Stephen Sondheim (portrayed by Bradley Whitford, “Get Out”), Larson’s musical theater hero, all while juggling tumultuous relationships. The film is a biographical adaptation of the musical of the same name, written by the real-life Jonathan Larson who later went on to write “Rent.”
Andrew Garfield completely becomes Jonathan Larson in this movie and steals every scene that he is in. In some of the musical numbers, the muscles on Garfield’s neck are literally bulging with effort. Garfield delivers one of the best performances of the year, setting himself up for a possible Oscar nomination. The performance is captivating for many reasons, but arguably the most important is his singing ability. He is not well known for being a singer, but Garfield sings every song in his role as Jonathan exquisitely, leaving theatre audiences speechless. Beyond his singing, Garfield’s acting engages the audience; they want to laugh and cry along with Jonathan. The drama of the movie would feel excessive without Garfield serving as anchor for the audience.
The drama of the film comes from the musical numbers, where the audience gets to see the vulnerability of the characters. The movie starts with a song called “30/90,” where Garfield’s singing has a manic quality to it; the feeling of running out of time is quite palpable. Garfield sings at an intense pace, barely even taking the time for a full breath of air. Throughout the movie, the audience sees Garfield portray Jonathan’s anxiety about the future, culminating with “Louder Than Words” where Jonathan sings with a steady voice, sure that he has chosen the right path in life. His anxiety is replaced with confidence, from knowing his loved ones will always support him. Garfield belts out a song about taking action, finally fully determined to continue making art that will change the world.
As mentioned earlier, Sondheim makes an important appearance in the movie: He is Jonathan’s driving force, motivating him to not give up after his musical Superbia is a disappointment. Sondheim represents a man at the top of the musical industry, creating some of the greatest shows to bless the stage. He is a monumental figure in the real world, and the movie conveys his importance, even though he only makes a few appearances throughout the film. His notoriety gives him a sort of indirect control over characters such as Jonathan — and without a figure to look up to, Jonathan’s character would just not make sense. Sondheim’s small role is instrumental in the deliverance of the importance of music.
My one warning for potential viewers is that the movie will likely send you down a rabbit hole. After watching the movie, I then proceeded to watch “Rent” online and listen to countless musical soundtracks. This movie is not only a blast to watch, but it will also make you fall in love with Broadway musicals. Every component of the movie comes together in a way that just exudes love for the art form. It makes you understand how music can inspire great things.
Daily Arts Writer Zach Loveall can be reached at email@example.com.