Jonathan Larson's name may not ring bells for the average pop culture connoisseur, but his work is a pillar that lives on through his legacy. Larson is the genius behind Rent, one of Broadway's most successful and longest-running shows, whose scrappy East Village soul remains just as relevant today, 27 years later. Rent has remained a mainstay in pop culture throughout the years, holding its rank in the top reasons starving artists move to New York City. Jonathan Larson's story, however, is much less discussed and deeply tragic.
Jonathan Larson wrote Rent while living paycheck to paycheck and waiting tables in New York. On the morning of Rent's very first Off-Broadway preview performance, Larson suffered an aortic dissection and died. An undiagnosed case of Marfan syndrome sent Larson to the hospital days prior, the artist complaining of chest pains, shortness of breath, and dizziness. After a handful of tests, the doctors at St. Vincent's Hospital concluded that the playwright was suffering from the common flu or stress stemming from his upcoming premiere. Following his death, New York State concluded that had he been properly diagnosed, the playwright would have lived.
Just hours after his unexpected death, Larson's family gave their blessing to continue with the show, encouraging the cast to perform the work in his honor. The cast agreed to perform the show as a sing-through, sat at three prop tables on a stage in a stripped-down reading of the show. In a turn of events not at all surprising to Rent fans, by the time the cast got to 'La Vie Boheme,' the joy couldn't be contained. The cast stopped the read-through, electing to finish out the rest of the show in its full glory. After the show's final notes, thunderous applause flooded the theater, one audience member breaking through the noise with a final, "thank you, Jonathan Larson."
Before Rent, was Larson's autobiographical 'rock monologue,' tick, tick, BOOM!, the latest project from Lin Manuel Miranda, starring Andrew Garfield as a young Larson. The project has been rumored for a number of years, the details surrounding it remaining hushed. What we do know, however, is that tick, tick, BOOM! will drop on Netflix in 2021. The film will be Miranda's feature directorial debut, and will likely remain true to the original story, the midlife crisis of an aspiring artist who has yet to achieve his dream. The story echoes the mental maps of so many millennials, should I give up on my artistic dreams and become an advertising copywriter?
What else do we know? The script for tick, tick, BOOM! is in the highly capable hands of Steven Levenson, the playwright behind the smash-hit Dear Evan Hansen. Filming for the project began in March of 2020 and resumed in October after shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tick, tick, BOOM! could very likely end up in next year's awards circle, with many critics' eyes turned to Andrew Garfield, who will have the chance to show off his theatrical talents on the screen. No stranger to the stage, Garfield completed a run as Prior Walter in The National Theatre revival of Angels in America in 2018, to rave reviews.
If Rent was 'inspired by' Larson's own life, then we can pretty much call tick, tick, BOOM! a direct portrayal. Garfield will play Jon, already bearing striking resemblance to the playwright who performed the piece as a solo work on the stage in 1990. The title, tick, tick, BOOM! refers to our main character's own mental state, the opening lines of the play reading "The sound you are hearing is not a technical problem. It is not a musical cue. It is not a joke. It is the sound of one man's mounting anxiety. I... am that man."
Netflix dropped a morsel of the project in its 2021 Film Preview, leaving the rest of us wondering 'when?' The film will also star Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, Judith Light, and Bradley Whitford, to name a few. When it comes to our anticipation of this project, the clock is literally ticking.