Multi-talented Lin-Manuel Miranda shines a light on a lesser known work from the late, cutting edge playwright and performer Jonathan Larson with much affection for the auteur and an art form that can be exasperating to produce.
His debut, tick, tick BOOM finds much honesty and fluidity in an overlapping framework in capturing the frustrations of a talented composer. The era of Macintosh machines emerges with the antecedent’s evolution from a rock monologue into an Off-Broadway production with three performers.
Andrew Garfield (The Eyes of Tammy Faye 2021) manages an outsized, if preening sincerity into such a driven man as Jon, on the verge. He fits well into Miranda’s tweaking, even with an emotive presence, lost in an upcoming workshop of a musical (Superbia, a sci-fi rock opera) long in the making while he’s struggling to make ends meet.
Almost thirty, coiffed in a curly mop,Jon feels like he’s on cusp of a major turning point in life. But his agent (Judith Light) isn’t very cooperative. In putting off a key song for the second act of the show, he could use help from an idol of his in the business, Stephen Sondheim (an uncanny Bradley Whitford).
Miranda and scribe Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen) provide more clarity than expected to the narrative in what seems like a musical documentary than has a self-referential quality that would definitely influence Larson’s landmark Rent about friendship and love during the surge of HIV and AIDS. Especially at his weekend diner gig where a colleague friend has become infected with the virus.
Many of the numbers are on stage with Vanessa Hudgens Karessa and Joshua Henry’s Roger are girlfriends Susan and Michael during the workshop. Away from it, Alexandra Shipp’s Susan wants a commitment as she has a nice offer to teach dance in the Berkshires. And, former roomie/best friend Michael, a sensitive Robin de Jesus, has found financial windfall by leaving theatre for advertising jingles on Madison Avenue with a plush condo to boot
A lived-in feel even within the narrative’s parameters shuns tendency toward bombast or garishness as t’s pretty amazing the Garfield had no musical background (he had to learn to sing and play piano) prior to this. Light, Whitford, Hudgens, and notably Shipp and de Jesus offer more effective backup than expected.
Miranda and his ace contributors can work up a spirit for the craft and effrontery that realizes the impact of Larson’s sudden death with sublime and amusing interludes. A toe-tapper as the title understands an immediacy of sizing the day with sublime, even witty interludes that burst into song. The best being a veritable Who’s-who of Broadway A-listers at the diner.