From a recording of Hamilton dropping on Disney+ to In the Heights hitting the big screen, Lin-Manuel Miranda has been having a moment bringing his onstage work to a broader audience. Now, he’s making his feature-length directorial debut with Netflix’s Tick, Tick… Boom! (out Nov. 19), paying homage to his musical theater roots by adapting Rent creator Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical musical of the same name. Starring Andrew Garfield as Larson, the film follows the legendary composer as he contemplates his career choices before his 30th birthday. Here’s what you should know about the life that inspired the musical, a life that was tragically cut short at age 35.
Larson, who became worried about his career while waiting tables in New York City, first performed Tick, Tick… Boom! as a solo act in 1990. The musical centers on Jon, or Larson, as he starts to hear a ticking sound just before his 30th birthday. We get a glimpse of Jon’s life, especially his tenuous relationships with his dance teacher girlfriend, Susan, who longs for a more stable life, and his childhood friend Michael, who leaves the starving artist lifestyle for a job as a research executive. The piece ends on Jon’s 30th birthday, when Susan leaves him with a thousand pages of manuscript paper, and Jon gets a call from Stephen Sondheim, Larson’s mentor in real life.
Larson was born on Feb. 4, 1960, in White Plains, NY, where he grew up influenced not only by musicals, but also by rock bands such as The Beatles and The Who. After graduating from Adelphi University, Larson pursued a career in the performing arts in New York City. While writing musicals such as Tick, Tick… Boom! and J.P. Morgan Saves the Nation, Larson also contributed songs to Sesame Street and created children’s audiocassettes for Land Before Time and An American Tale. To fund his dreams, Larson waited tables at Manhattan’s Moondance Diner.
Above all else, Larson is known for creating Rent, although he sadly didn’t live long enough to see it succeed on Broadway. Larson spent seven years working to bring Rent to the stage after playwright Billy Aronson approached him with the idea to create a modern musical based on Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème. Set in modern Manhattan’s East Village, the rock musical follows the lives of young artists struggling to make ends meet as poverty, addiction, and the AIDS epidemic loom over their community. The original cast consisted of then relatively unknown names such as Anthony Rapp, Idina Menzel, and Taye Diggs.
During the final week of rehearsals for the Off-Broadway production of Rent, Larson started experiencing chest pains. He made two hospital visits that week, but his EKG readings and X-rays came back normal. Sadly, on Jan. 25, 1996 — the day of Rent’s first preview performance — Larson died from an aortic dissection believed to have been caused by his undiagnosed Marfan syndrome.
After Larson’s death, playwright David Auburn revised Tick, Tick… Boom! into a three-actor piece. Over the years, the musical has taken on a life of its own, with actors such as Raúl Esparza, Neil Patrick Harris, and even Miranda himself in the role of Jon. Given Miranda’s love for the theater, we can’t wait to see how he pays homage to Larson with the film adaptation of Tick, Tick… Boom!