If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again…
Never say never…
Quitters never win…
These are the take-away messages of “Tick, Tick … Boom!,” which marks Lin-Manuel Miranda’s debut as a film director, paying a stunning homage to the late Jonathan Larson.
The biopic currently is streaming on Netflix.
This is a rare, rousing and resourceful adaptation of an autobiographical musical by Larson that no one ever saw, because the composer just couldn’t find a producer to buy into it. It is highly targeted to the Broadway community, with a number of familiar names and some vague faces that appear in cameos that provide somewhat of a sideshow – a guessing game to name all the Broadway elites that appear in brief sightings.
“Superbia” was Larson’s unknown quest to make the big time in the Broadway of the 1990s, and clearly, he gave his heart and soul into the project, notably struggling to complete a key tune in what he hoped would be the selling point of his show.
The film also is a revelation of how difficult it is to make art; an anguished Larson feels like a failure because he’s pushing 30 and he can’t reel in the greenlight for someone to produce his work. He muses that Stephen Sondheim, an iconic composer, had his first show produced at age 27. Hence, his clock is tick-ticking away.
But like the highwire act in a circus, who falls but eventually redeems himself by hitting the tightwires again, Larson eventually accepted his first failure by making a second impression, creating the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning “Rent,” a hit among the Bohemian crowd of the era. But reality provided added drama in the Larson legacy: he died on the eve of the premiere of the show, and never was able to enjoy his eventual success and the impact “Rent” made in the annals of Broadway history.
Garfield, a star of film and stage, projects the empathy and embodies the energy of a conflicted Larson and gets into the skin of the composer, providing a powerful voice and a convincing presence on the keyboards. He had never sung publicly till he took on this film. It’s a performance worthy of Oscar consideration.
Alexandra Shipp plays Larson’s girlfriend Susan and becomes part of the tension in a problematic relationship. Other key secondary characters are Vanessa Hudgens as singer Karessa Johnson workshopping the show and Robin de Jesus as Michael, Larson’s best friend and ex-actor roommate.
With Miranda at the helm, the cast is peopled with high-caliber actors. The man behind two huge Tony-winning Broadway hits, the earlier “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” is unashamed to appear in cameos himself in his own films, so it’s no surprise that he has a brief scene — ditto, his real-life father, Luis Miranda Jr.– here.
But look for a galaxy of Broadway greats:
—Judith Light portrays Larson’s agent, whose advice is to write about what you know.
— Bradley Whitford is Sondheim, looking convincingly like the real deal. While Sondheim does not actually appear in the film himself, it’s his real voice in the scene where Larson listens to the message that his show is a no-go but provides the challenging advice of encouragement to move on and keep working on his craft.
— Joel Grey is best known for his Oscar-winning role as the emcee in the film version of the musical, “Cabaret.”
— Phylicia Rashad is a Tony winner for “A Raisin in the Sun” but best known for playing Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”
— Brian Stokes Mitchell is a Tony winner for “Kiss Me Kate” and other musicals like “Ragtime.”
— Andre-DeShields earned a Tony as Hermes in “Hadestown.”
— A cluster of Miranda’s colleagues from “Hamilton,” including Phillipa Soo, who originated the role of Eliza; Renee Elise Goldsberry, who won a Tony for her Angelica role; and Christopher Jackson, who played George Washington in “Hamilton,” and now co-stars in the TV drama, “Bull.”
— Bebe Neuwirth is a Tony winner for “Chicago” and “Sweet Charity,” also is remembered for TV’s “Cheers” and for playing Morticia Addams” in Broadway’s “The Addams Family.”
— Chita Rivera is a 10-time Tony nominee and three-time Tony winner, known for her portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story” and Velma in “Chicago.”
— Bernadette Peters, who originated roles in Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park With George” and “Into the Woods,” is a prolific actress in such hits as “Follies,” “Gypsy,” “A Little Night Music,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Hello, Dolly!”
— Beth Malone is a Tony nominee for “Fun Home.”
— A trio of original cast members from “Rent,” including Adam Pascal (Roger), Daphne Rubin-Vegas (Mimi) and Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel) are recognizable.
— Stephen Schwartz is the prolific composer and lyricist of a string of Broadway hits, including “Wicked,” “Pippin” and “Godspell.”
“Sunday,” the pivotal tune inspired by the Sondheim hit “Sunday in the Park With George,” is one of the key scenes in the film, set in the Moondance Diner enabling most of the aforementioned Broadway luminaries to assemble and reflect in Steven Levenson’s script to party hearty as Larson’s clock is ticking.
Actual footage of Larson performing at the keyboards during the end credits validates the concept and scope of his art-making magnified throughout the film in Garfield’s performance.