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Lin-Manuel Miranda Sets Directorial Debut With ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’

Miranda is perfect for the job of bringing this autobiographical musical to the big screen.
Lin Manuel Miranda Saturday Night Live
By  · Published on July 20th, 2018

Miranda is perfect for the job of bringing this autobiographical musical to the big screen.

Be prepared for a hell of a mashup of epic proportions; some bona fide Broadway greats will join forces on a new musical adaptation that simultaneously taps into 1990s nostalgia. According to Deadline, the late Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom! will be made into a movie. The film will serve as the feature-length directorial debut of our favorite modern-day musical theater superstar, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who seems set to continue a seamless transition between the stage and the screen. The Tony Award-winning book writer of Dear Evan Hansen, Steven Levenson, will also be along for the ride, having signed on to pen the Tick, Tick…Boom! screenplay.

Tick, Tick…Boom! can pretty much be summed up with one word: anxiety. The plot centers on Jon, an aspiring playwright attempting to get his premiere musical Superbia off the ground in the New York stage circuit. Unfortunately, that’s a little tough to do, as his life unrelated to the stage is also being upended in the process. Jon’s ballet dancer girlfriend wants more than his artistic ambitions can monetarily offer. Moreover, his best friend has given up on his dream of becoming an actor in order to pursue a lucrative career as a research executive. As Jon nears his 30th birthday, he worries about how his perceived lack of achievement stacks up against the ticking timebomb of the passage of time, and whether the chase for artistic integrity is worth the struggle.

If it wasn’t clear from the protagonist’s name alone, Tick, Tick…Boom! is Larson’s autobiographical take on becoming a renowned composer and playwright. Superbia was a real musical that failed to enter full production, and Tick, Tick…Boom! was written in response to that considerable professional blow. Eventually, the world would come to know Larson through his magnum opus Rent, although he never actually got to witness any of that success for himself. Larson unfortunately passed away the day before the show’s first preview performance.

Through Rent, Larson undoubtedly became a seminal influence on the millennial generation’s quintessential stage musical experience. He definitively captured the very essence of feeling that accompanies the messy lives of young artists just struggling to make something of themselves. As a then-contemporaneous update of Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème, Rent depicts a snapshot of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Urgency and depression palpably consume characters found in the midst of poverty and the AIDS epidemic.

But really, the niche premise of Rent’s narrative does allow its protagonists to cultivate raw and passionate relationships with one another, even if the musical as a whole can feel perennially stuck in its time. In fact, one of the production’s most memorable songs, “Seasons of Love,” is so recognizable that it’s intensely parodied. Nevertheless, the universality of its message — that we get to count our years “in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife” — makes it earnest and captivating. Larson’s sliver of the East Village is idealistic to a fault at times, but it at least offers something thoughtful and humane in its proclamation to “measure your life in love.”

Arguably, Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musicalwhich was itself largely inspired by Rent – can leave that exact impression when it implores you to make history count. Based on the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, Miranda’s own magnum opus (so far) is as bombastically infectious and audacious as Rent and speaks volumes for the younger generation due to its forward-looking hopefulness.

Hamilton is, at its core, a pertinent character study that importantly doesn’t totally glorify its titular character, though. This does differ from the more escapist, uncritical lens that Larson’s work is filtered through. Hamilton’s landmark accomplishments are made more compelling through Miranda’s perceptive gaze of his faults, insinuating the character’s problematic behavior before he actually does anything overtly wrong. The musical unravels a dusty historical figure in a way which implores audiences to care about him and still interrogate his actions.

Tick, Tick…Boom! seems to hit a kind of middle ground between Rent and Hamilton. Its thematic similarities to the former are highly notable despite it being autobiographical. Tick, Tick…Boom! and Rent both ask questions about integrity, personal growth, and the inevitability of hardship in the wake of doing what you love. Both productions ultimately find hope and affirmation in unexpected places, too.

However, the deeply personal and internal nature of Tick, Tick…Boom! aligns with Miranda’s treatment of Hamilton wonderfully. It’s a fantastic addition to Miranda’s oeuvre, as he is adept at creating fully-formed characters from revered figures. He unspools their dark realities as much as he revels in their noteworthy feats. Miranda understands the agitation present in Tick, Tick…Boom! as well. After all, “why do you write like you’re running out of time” is a sentiment that could’ve come from Larson himself.

Thus, there is really no better man to adapt Tick, Tick…Boom! for the big screen than Miranda. The latter is so fully engrossed in the works of the former that he is able to answer Twitter questions entirely through Rent lyrics, for crying out loud. Miranda’s distinct ability to hone in on powerful individualistic narratives will prove an incredible asset to this adaptation.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)