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Why you should see Tick, Tick…Boom: Jonathan Larson’s legacy

You've probably heard of the groundbreaking musical Rent, but you might not know about the composer and writer behind it. Jonathan Larson's musical not only defined a specific era of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but it changed the course of musical theatre.

Thanks to Larson, other creatives are able to find the courage within to create their own musicals and other theatrical pieces. Not only are aspiring theatre creators writing about unspoken subjects, but they are shying away from the typical music composition. Rock, pop, hip-hop and rap music started being incorporated into Broadway shows after Larson's work. Fans would line up for hours in hopes of getting tickets to Rent, which played for 12 years, making it one of the longest-running Broadway shows ever. 

Rent is about struggling artists in New York City during the HIV/AIDS crisis. The musical was revolutionary, but Netflix is creating an accessible way to watch another piece of Larson's work. An autobiographical musical movie called Tick, Tick...Boom is being brought to the screen. The movie stars Andrew Garfield, directed by Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and written for screen by Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen). The story follows a struggling artist (Jon)—both financially and personally—in New York City. Jon learns to navigate friendship, relationships and most importantly the hardships of being an artist.

Before writing Rent, Jonathan Larson was struggling with many concepts about success and careers. He feared entering his thirties because he was not deemed "successful" yet, but he took these internal narratives and wrote Tick, Tick...Boom. The musical premiered off-Broadway in 2001 and was very well received. Nominated for several awards, including Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circle, Tick, Tick...Boom was successful, but not quite as well-known to the public as Rent is. 

These two musicals specifically are extremely special. They push boundaries and speak on taboo subjects, such as sexuality and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. These were usually hushed topics in the 1990s, yet so relevant and important. Even decades later, these stories remain relatable. Understanding and discovering yourself will always be difficult, but it is a universal experience expressed in Larson's work.

His unique talents brought hope to theatre lovers and beyond, but he never got to see his work appreciated. Larson passed away due to a heart condition in 1996, the day Rent started previews off-Broadway. But, his legacy lives on. Not just through millions of lives he touched through his rock songs that traveled through Rent, but by the artists he inspired to create their own work. 

Lin Manuel Miranda, who is making his film directorial debut on Tick, Tick...Boom, knew he needed to work in theatre when he saw Larson's show off-Broadway. In a New York Times article, Miranda said "Someone else has permission to tell their story because you [Larson] told yours." Hamilton became a smash hit when it arrived on Broadway in 2015, bringing in new theatre fans from all over the world. All thanks to Lin Manuel Miranda, who wrote, composed and starred in the show. It's safe to say Hamilton would never have been created without Rent

Jonathan Larson | Credit: Library of Congress

That's the great thing about a good piece of art. Not only does it encourage other creations, but it gives permission to create.

When Jonathan Larson asked, "How do you measure a year in a life?" in his musical, Rent, the lyric continued with "How about love?" Nobody knows exactly how to measure a life, but if it is with love, Jonathan Larson's life is limitless. Although with the short time he had, he sparked compassion and understanding in millions of people. There is nothing better than the gift of feeling seen and heard. That is exactly why Jonathan Larson's work is not in the sadness of his death but in the celebration of his life. 

What did you think of Tick, Tick...Boom? Let us know on Twitter @girlslifemag

Slider: Library of Congress


by Kelly Schwint | 11/15/2021