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BWW Album Review: TICK, TICK...BOOM! Makes a Huge Emotional Impact

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The new musical adaptation is now streaming on Netflix.

BWW Album Review: TICK, TICK...BOOM! Makes a Huge Emotional Impact

The experience of listening to the soundtrack to Netflix's adaptation of tick, tick... BOOM! is a highly specific one, and all the more emotional for that specificity. Unlike some other attempts at crossing over between the worlds of musical theatre and mainstream moviemaking, this is a movie musical that is unabashedly for the theatre geeks and drama club kids, for the ones who know the mythology of Rent and Jonathan Larson, and who understand that impossible, infuriating impulse to create, even when it hurts.

On the surface, the opening number, "30/90," can feel a little self-important and self-indulgent. It's got all that driving '90s rock sound that you recognize from Rent; indeed, it feels, both in music and lyrics, like it could have been sung by one of those East Side bohemians. But that's kind of the point: Larson's particular gift was melding together two languages - rock and Broadway - to tell the stories of ordinary people he knew. When you're feeling like you're still waiting for life to begin, especially when you hold yourself to near-impossible standards, like this semi-fictionalized "Jon" does, of course turning thirty feels terrifying. The key, though, is how the story starts here and slowly moves Jon - and us, by extension - to the realization that the only way through is as a community. Andrew Garfield, already a remarkable and versatile actor, proves that he's not just a movie star who half-heartedly tries to sing - he's a little rough around the edges, but genuinely capable of acting through song, which is rarer than it should be.

Much of the first half of the score does, in a way, feel like Larson working his way through some of the same ideas and themes that would eventually blossom, in more complex form, in Rent. "Boho Days" is a delightful little paean to the impoverished but exuberant lives that Jon and his friends live; it's a more casual precursor to "La Vie Boheme." "No More" gives Andrew Garfield and Robin de Jesús a defiant duet that reminds us more than a little of the title song from Rent. "Johnny Can't Decide" digs into the questions of "selling out" that Larson's later characters would wrestle with too, while the staccato, observational lyrics of "Swimming" feel almost like a proto-"Contact."

We cannot talk about this version of tick, tick...BOOM! without talking about the most notable and talked-about number, "Sunday." Structured as a parody of the same song from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, it instead half-seriously elevates a Sunday lunch rush at a rundown diner. For the purposes of this movie, though, it's where that theme of "community" starts to really nudge its way into Jon's consciousness, embodied by the seemingly unending parade of Broadway stars who cameo. Sondheim's presence is a quiet but unmistakable spirit lingering over the entire story and score (both the real man and the fictionalized version in the film), and this song has only gained more poignance since the passing of the real Sondheim, only weeks after the release of the film. It's a moment where we blur the lines between reality and fiction, and where a community joins together to honor their own. Even with deliberately goofy lyrics (personal favorite giggle-inducer: turning Sondheim's string of "bum bum bum" into "bums bums bums"), I dare you not to get choked up.

After the painful but hilarious "Therapy," the story starts moving towards its emotional peak. Alexandra Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens get to shine on "Come to Your Senses," one of the most genuinely beautiful songs in the score. It's one of those songs that straddles the line between popular music and theatrical music. It has a clear role in the story, as Jon's loved ones and muses "speak" to him to stop his selfishness and repair his relationships, but it also stands alone as a song you could hear on its own.

The 11 o'clock "Why" isn't just a reflection on Jon's life with those he loves, but a song that, once again, is for the theatre geeks in us all. Packed with references and familiar experiences, it's the culmination of that transformation from "me" to "we" that the story has been building towards the whole time. Jon's promise to "spend [his] time this way," with music and friends, is all the more devastating with the knowledge of how the real Larson really was, to borrow from director Lin-Manuel Miranda's words, "running out of time." But what a way to remember his legacy: with music that reminds us to uplift each other and that theatre, at its best, is transformative.


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