Tick, Tick…Boom! is successful adaptation

Andrew Garfield stars in Tick, Tick…Boom!

As Homer Simpson once said, “Trying is the first step towards failure… the lesson is, never try.” As a flawless human being, I am not personally familiar with the concept of failing, but everyone else in the world would do well to not heed this fatherly bit of advice. I am told that a much healthier way of looking at things was expressed by Thomas Edison when he insisted that he “(had) not failed (to make the lightbulb). (He) had just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Broadway legend Jonathan Larson did not have to write 10,000 musicals before figuring things out, but he did need at least one failure before he hit the big time. That failure and the story behind it is explored in Tick, Tick… BOOM!, a Netflix adaptation of the off-Broadway show of the same name that beautifully celebrates the creative process, art, and the people who make it.

The structure of tick, tick… BOOM! was a bit confusing to me at first. Originally a stage show, BOOM! is about the failure of another stage show entitled Superbia. This is the film adaptation of BOOM! that includes bits as they would have been seen on stage in the original production (ie. with a three-person cast, band, and no sets to speak of), but the majority of the film dramatizes the story as what you as an audience member of the play are supposed to be imagining while watching the actual minimalistic show. That’s how I, as a Broadway neophyte, interpreted things, anyway. 

While initially puzzled, I really grew to appreciate the creativity and authenticity of this approach over time. Those two adjectives are perfect descriptors of the entire experience, in fact. You would never guess that this was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first time directing a feature film if you didn’t know that fact going in, as he seems to fit as naturally behind a camera as he does composing behind a piano. Buoying Miranda’s freshman outing is a screenplay that cleverly adapts the small and personal play in a way that actually works on screen and still manages to convey the intimacy of the original venue, as well as Andrew Garfield’s stunning performance as Jonathan Larson himself. Who knew that guy could sing? I didn’t. 

Nowhere is the creativity of Tick, Tick… BOOM! more apparent than in the musical numbers, however. For those who don’t know (I didn’t), Jonathan Larson would later go on to write the smash-hit Rent and get that one string of numbers stuck in everybody’s heads for all of eternity, and a song or two in BOOM! might have the same result on audiences as well (there are also some “talky” songs that basically amount to people randomly moving their voices up and down while talking, however, which I must admit I am not a fan of). The music, choreography, and camera work of the diner number makes that scene a particular stand out, and if you don’t have the time (or patience) to watch the entire movie you should at least look up that bit on YouTube (the cameos in this scene alone are enough to thrill committed theater goers). 

If failure is an excellent teacher, then the people behind Tick, Tick… BOOM! probably didn’t learn much. But that’s what happens when you successfully create the lightbulb on your first try.  

Tick, Tick… BOOM! is now available on Netflix.