Why Lin-Manuel Miranda gave Tick, Tick... Boom! a frame story about the real Jonathan Larson
Pan left... close up on the steeple of the church....
Rent character Mark Cohen sings these words as he ponders the dissolution of his found family and the role he plays as an observer of their lives, hiding behind his camera. One of composer Jonathan Larson's most enduring creations, Mark has a distinctive early '90s indie filming style — one that pops up in the new frame story director Lin-Manuel Miranda has given Tick, Tick... Boom!, another Larson musical now coming to the big screen (and Netflix).
The autobiographical musical follows Jon (Andrew Garfield), a version of Larson who is telling the story of his life in New York City, his friends, his love life, and his struggle to become a musical theater writer — all as his impending 30th birthday hangs over his head.
Larson originally performed the show as a stripped-down, one-to-three person endeavor, but Miranda blows the musical to a full-scale rendering composed of the figures in Jon's life and his imagination.
He also adds to the storytelling a new documentary-style bookend, one that contextualizes Larson's contributions, his Pulitzer Prize win for Rent, and his tragic death on the cusp of the success he so craved. Though Miranda knows many members of the audience will have some familiarity with Larson, he wanted to give everyone a sense of Jon's uncanny feeling that he was running out of time.
"What is so tragic and bittersweet about this story is this is a guy who was so worried about reaching his 30th birthday and must have known on some sub-atomic level that he was never going to reach his 40th birthday," Miranda tells EW. "Letting everyone start on the same page with that context of the fact that this is a guy who sensed a ticking clock in a way the rest of us don't ordinarily sense it was really important. [It] gets everyone on the same page in terms of why his story [and] why he's singing these words has another layer of urgency to it."
As for the cinematic style employed, which, as mentioned, can only be described as Mark Cohen-esque, Miranda had a specific personal reason for that too beyond the connection to Rent. "My director of photography, Alice Brooks, would make fun of me because I loved filming with the VHS and the Betamax so much," he says. "There's a subconscious reason for that. My happiest memories are filtered through these VHS performances of my school productions growing up."
"We all have that," he adds. "There's a warm fuzziness to it too, and so many of my memories of the 90s are filtered through that. Part of that is just the intimacy of that and the very specific feel of it."
Tick, Tick... Boom! is now in select theaters and hits Netflix Nov. 19.
The autobiographical musical follows a version of Rent composer Jonathan Larson, who tells the story of his life in New York City, his friends, his romances, and his struggle to become a musical theater writer — all as his impending 30th birthday hangs over his head.