Swift Headline
Latest News and Updates

‘Tick Tick … Boom!’ a tragic, true tale of ‘Rent’ creator

“Tick, Tick … Boom!” — an early musical by Jonathan Larson, who created “Rent” — was born of sadness, anger and frustration.

In the late 1980s, Larson learned that Matt O’Grady, his best friend from childhood, had contracted HIV. Working in the theater, Larson knew several people who had AIDS. Now it was threatening someone he’d known most of his life.

“Matt’s diagnosis shocked him,” Victoria Leacock, a close friend of Larson’s from college, told The Post. “He realized that you don’t know how much time you have. It’s finite. And how you spend it matters.”

At the same time, Larson was struggling with his stalled career aspirations. He wanted to write rock musicals that dealt with contemporary issues at a moment when pop operas from Britain — “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera” — dominated Broadway. Larson had written some impressive scores, and had received a few prestigious grants and awards, but nothing he did went anywhere. And he was pressed financially. His 30th birthday was coming up in 1990, but he was still working as a waiter at the Moondance Diner in Soho.

Andrew Garfield (right) as Jonathan Larson (left) in the movie version of “Tick, Tick … Boom!”
Netflix

Larson begin writing the autobiographical “Tick, Tick … Boom!” in 1989. Now, more than three decades later, “Tick, Tick … Boom!’ is a movie, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Andrew Garfield. It opens in theaters Nov. 12 and begins streaming on Netflix Nov. 19.

Sadly, Larson isn’t around to see it, nor did he get to experience the well-received off-Broadway production that opened in 2001. He died in 1996 at 35 from an aortic dissection caused by Marfan Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the body’s connective tissue.


Larson wrote “Tick, Tick … Boom!” after two other shows he’d been working on fell apart. One was a modern adaptation of Puccini’s “La Boheme.” He’d written three songs, including the title song, “Rent,” with his collaborator, Billy Aronson. But Larson and Aronson’s visions didn’t mesh. Aronson wanted the show to take place on the yuppie Upper West Side. Larson wanted to set it on the bohemian Lower East Side. They were at loggerheads.

The other show was called “Superbia.” A sprawling, futuristic musical, it took aim at the corporate-controlled, mind-numbing entertainment culture. Stephen Sondheim, who had befriended Larson, thought the score, a mix of rock, new wave, techno and Broadway, was impressive. The script was not. “It was unresolvable,” Sondheim told me when I interviewed him for my 2020 book, “Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway.”

Playwrights Horizons staged a workshop, but then dropped the show. Nobody else picked it up. Producers told Larson it was too big for off-Broadway and too advanced for Broadway.

“Jonathan was devastated by that,” his sister Julie Larson told The Post. “So he went to work on a show that was just him, a piano and a band. Nobody could tell him it’s too big.”

Inspired by Simon Gray’s autobiographical “Swimming to Cambodia” and Eric Bogosian’s “Talk Radio” — both one-man shows — Larson conceived “Tick, Tick … Boom!” as a rock monologue delivered by a struggling composer named Jon. He wrote songs and speeches about his career frustrations, O’Grady’s HIV diagnosis, a fraught relationship he was having with a female dancer, even his agent, who had stopped returning his calls. He originally called it “30/90,” a reference to his looming 30th birthday.

Leslie Odom Jr., Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo during the opening night performance of  "Tick, Tick...Boom!" in 2014.
Leslie Odom Jr., Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo during the opening night performance of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” in 2014.
Getty Images

Larson invited Leacock to his ramshackle fourth-floor walk-up on Greenwich Street to hear a cassette tape he’d made of his songs. “You’d sit in front of his speakers and listen, and he’d look directly at your face, trying to figure out your reaction,” she said. “It was very intense.”

Leacock told him the songs, brimming with anger and disappointment, were terrific. But, she added, “I understand why you don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t understand why you still do.” Larson was taken aback. The next day he phoned and played her a song he’d written overnight. He called it “Why.” It summed up his life: He was happiest writing shows, and he would continue to do so whether they got produced or not.

“There was a sense of ticking time,” Julie Larson said. “But, honestly, I don’t think he seriously ever considered doing anything else.”

Second Stage, a small nonprofit theater, produced a staged reading of the show, which Larson retitled “BoHo Days.” When Robyn Goodman, the theater’s artistic director, met Larson, he told her, “I’m going to bring rock ‘n’ roll back to Broadway.”

Jonathan Larson and Victoria Leacock in original production.
Jonathan Larson and Victoria Leacock in the original production.
Victoria Leacock Hoffman

“He wasn’t arrogant about it,” Goodman told The Post. “He really meant it. He was obsessed, in a wonderful way.”

Larson insisted on performing the show himself. And that was a problem. The songs were good, but the script was unfocused. Goodman wanted to hire an actor to play Jon. That way, Larson could concentrate on the storytelling. Larson refused. It was his life, and he wanted to perform it. After the reading, Second Stage dropped “BoHo Days.”

But Jeffrey Seller, an aspiring producer working as a booker in a Broadway production office, caught a performance of “BoHo Days.” It made him cry. “Here was a man telling his life story that I felt was my life story, and telling it in a musical vernacular that was giving me goose bumps,” he told me for “Singular Sensation.”

The next day, Seller wrote Larson a letter: “Your work – music, lyrics, and spoken word – has an emotional power and resonance that I have rarely experienced in the theatre. You’re also insightful, perceptive, and very funny.” He added, “Like you, I want to do great things in the theatre.”

Poster for original production.
Poster for original production.
Poster for new film on Netflix.
Poster for the new film on Netflix.
Netflix

A few days later, they met for a drink at a bar near New York University. Seller, who would one day produce “Hamilton,” was struck by Larson’s determination to bring contemporary music to Broadway. “He was on a mission to change the world,” Seller recalled.

With Second Stage out of the picture, Leacock stepped in to produce the show — now on its third title, “Tick, Tick … Boom!” — at the Village Gate. During technical rehearsals, they learned that one of their close friends, Pam Shaw, had contracted AIDS. Another friend, Alison “Ali” Gertz, one of the first heterosexuals to admit publicly she had AIDS, was getting sicker. And they found out that yet another friend, Gordon Rogers, was HIV-positive. (All three died of AIDS. Matt O’Grady, on the other hand, never developed AIDS and is still alive.)

“We had gone from a crisis to a plague,” said Leacock. “And it was evident to Jonathan that the palette of ‘Tick’ just wasn’t big enough to deal with the nightmare we were living through.”

When he finished his run at the Village Gate, Larson went back to “Rent.” Aronson, his writing partner on the show, agreed to let him go it alone. He wrote a scene about an AIDS support group. He named three of the characters in the scene Ali, Pam and Gordon.

Director Lin-Manuel Miranda on the movie set of the 'tick, tick... Boom' in 2020.
Director Lin-Manuel Miranda on the movie set of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” in 2020.
GC Images

Five years later, “Rent” was in rehearsals at the New York Theater Workshop, with Jeffrey Seller as one of its producers. After the dress rehearsal Jan. 24, 1996, Larson, who had not been feeling well and had been to the emergency room twice, returned to his Greenwich Street apartment (its jammed bookshelves, shower in the kitchen and keyboard by the window are meticulously recreated in the movie).

Around 12:30 a.m. Jan. 25, he put on the teakettle — and collapsed. His aorta had torn open. His roommate found him dead on the kitchen floor at 3:30 a.m.


After “Rent” became a worldwide sensation, producers looked at everything Larson had written. Goodman and Leacock wanted to produce “Tick, Tick … Boom!” Larson’s parents were in favor, but his sister was not. “It would have been too painful as a one-man show,” she said. “It didn’t feel right to me that somebody would be up there playing Johnny.”

Goodman and Leacock brought in David Auburn, a Tony Award-winning playwright, to rewrite the script. He added two characters. One was based on Matt O’Grady; the other on the dancer Larson was dating while writing “Tick, Tick … Boom!” As a three-character chamber piece, it was “lovely,” said Julie Larson.

Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp co-star in the new film.
Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp co-star in the new film.
Netflix

She’s pleased with Miranda’s movie, for which she receives executive producer credit.

“Tick, Tick … Boom!” is “always going to be tinged with complicated emotions,” she said, but the movie “beautifully highlights an artist’s infinite confidence and absolute despair, and the tottering between the two.”

Read original article here

Denial of responsibility! Swiftheadline is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – admin@swiftheadline.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!

Leave a comment