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'Gripping': Giles Watling reviews the Oscar nominated musical 'tick, tick...BOOM!'

Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson | MACALL POLAY/NETFLIX © 2021

3 min read

A totally engrossing and beautifully played musical telling the life story of the American composer Jonathan Larson, this emotional rollercoaster of a film is a must-see

This piece took me time to get into, but it gripped me totally. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s direction, like almost everything he does, takes us by surprise. His use of old televisual quality and framing puts us right into the time zone he wants us.

The devices of theatre within theatre and flashback episodes took time to navigate and asks us to get to the point of suspension of disbelief a little later than I would normally expect. But, once there, boy oh boy, what a ride.

Based on the autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, it tells the story of a musical theatre writer struggling to get his first piece noticed. He has issues with friendship, romance, and the massive pressure of true artistic creation. He has to produce the keynote song for his musical presentation, he has to ensure that the great and the good of New York theatre come to see, he has to keep everyone happy – and time is running out. He is nearly 30-years-old and has produced nothing of worth. Older than Sondheim when he hit the world with West Side Story. Older than Paul McCartney was when he wrote his last song with John Lennon, he has to fulfil his self-set timetable for success – and he is failing.

The really moving part is that this is pretty much a true story. The real Jonathan Larson never got to see the stunning success of his work, as he died on the day of the first preview of his acclaimed show Rent.

Boy oh boy, what a ride

This film adaptation takes us on an emotional roller coaster journey of its production, and it has particular resonance to those of us who have written, or have attempted to write, for the theatre. A continuing theme of rejection; the success of a workshopped performance only to be followed by the advice to keep at it, go away, and produce another musical. Heart-breaking.

There are moments of elation too, starkly rising above the challenges he faces – but I mustn’t give too much away…

This is a simply set, beautifully played, and totally engrossing musical. It lives in the heartland of the rougher side of New York theatreland. It plays with themes of life and death, love and rejection, and perceived success and failure. The stunning cast led by the convincing Larson lookalike Andrew Garfield never let the tempo drop; but this piece is all about Larson so Garfield is front and centre throughout – a daunting task for any performer, but Garfield isn’t just any performer. He deserves the accolades he has received in the past and his Best Performance Oscar nomination for this piece is well deserved. A real classic New York Rock/Sondheim kind of a piece.

And, speaking of Sondheim – he’s there too! A must-see in my view.

Giles Watling is Conservative MP for Clacton

tick, tick...BOOM!
Directed by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Broadcaster: Netflix

Including Best Film Editing 

British talent to watch: Best Actor: Andrew Garfield 

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