Cover Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut Tick, Tick…Boom! came at the perfect time, and here’s why

When the world feels as if it’s at the brink of catastrophe, more people begin to ask the age-old question, “Is art still necessary?”

It’s the same, inevitable question that is posed in Tony Award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, Tick, Tick… Boom!, the autobiographical musical written by the late Jonathan Larson of the same name. The question of art's importance looms over the shoulder of Jon (played by the amazing Andrew Garfield), which he had to face while struggling to finish Superbia, long before he wrote the iconic rock musical, Rent. All the while, his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús) and girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) are paving their own paths to success.

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The ensemble also includes Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa, Joshua Henry as Roger, Michaela Jae as Carolyn, Ben Ross as Freddy, and Bradley Whitford as the great Stephen Sondheim.

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During a roundtable interview with the director, Miranda shared how he wanted to bring more balance to art and necessity in the film. “Michael and Susan weren’t necessarily wrong for the choices they made; the fact that Susan is this accomplished dancer, and she believes she’s a great dancer [but] New York does not define her calling; and Michael choosing to have health insurance, choosing a life where he can feel safe [instead of pursuing acting]—that’s not a wrong choice,” Miranda says. “But it also necessitates talking about Jonathan—how he did what he loved, did it without recognition, [and] did it without payment. [His] journey over the course of this film is to reconnect with that initial impulse. It’s always the impulse I’m trying to get back to as a writer.”

Miranda is no stranger to this quandary. He would know as he once walked in the shoes of Larson, literally and figuratively, as he was once was a young and aspiring composer. “If no one had seen In the Heights, I would still be substitute teaching in my high school and writing songs at night,” the director shares.

He also starred as Jon in a production of Tick, Tick… Boom! in 2014. He says, “One of the things that were magical about playing Jonathan was growing a deeper relationship with Jonathan Larson’s family, with Julia Larson, and also realising that anytime Tick, Tick… Boom! is performed, Jonathan is alive again. At that production, I got to meet his best friend [and] his girlfriend. . .They’re all still around and they keep Jonathan’s memory alive."

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“I wanted to honour that community and really use that community as a resource to get stories about Jonathan and ways he interacted with them. So, when we made our movie, we were making the movie Jonathan would’ve wanted to make or a movie he would’ve recognised,” the director explained.

But Miranda still didn’t have it easy despite knowing the story by heart. “It was tricky the whole way because the biggest thing is there’s no definitive version of Tick, Tick… Boom!. Jonathan wrote several versions that he performed from 1989 to the early-mid 90s as he performed it as a rock monologue with a band in different venues.”

Miranda brilliantly acknowledges and realises this in the film in the best possible way; first, we see Jonathan performing in one of his shows, and once he touches the piano, we’re visually transported to that pivotal moment he sings of.

There’s also the interpretation of time that Miranda implements throughout the movie, leaving the audience feel restless knowing Larson’s tragic and triumphant fate. Even then, the audience is compelled to see it through knowing that Larson’s memory lives on.

Fans of Tick, Tick… Boom! may now listen to the film's full soundtrack as Sony Music Masterworks recently released the 17-track album which features tracks performed by Garfield, Shipp, de Jesús, Hudgens, Tony Award nominee Joshua Henry, Emmy Award nominee Rodriguez, Emmy Award winner Bradley Whitford, Grammy Award winner Tariq Trotter, also known as Black Thought of The Roots, with Emmy and Tony Award winner Judith Light.

There's also a special end credits reprise of Come To Your Senses featuring Jazmine Sullivan and a cover version of Larson's previously unreleased Only Takes a Few by The Mountain Goats. The album is out now and can be streamed on all digital music platforms worldwide.

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