Dir: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Writers: Steven Levenson; Jonathan Larson
Starring: Andrew Garfield; Alexandra Shipp; Bradley Whitford; Vanessa Hudgens
Producers: Ron Howard; Brian Grazer; Lin-Manuel Miranda; Steven Levenson
With the recent passing of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim at 91 years of age, and the return of The Great White Way – this movie’s release is much more relevant now then if released at any other time.
This is an original musical, biographical, by Jonathan Larson himself. It’s a nice little project, done by Broadway folks, for Broadway folks. As everyone should know, Jonathan Larson is the genius behind RENT, the groundbreaking and brilliant musical.
Jonathan Larson died in 1996 of complications from AiDS. He never got to see RENT open on Broadway. He did however, get to see his other two babies perform for smaller audiences, Superbia, and Tick Tick Boom. These two never really made it anywhere – but they seemed to be great warm-up acts for his masterpiece that shook the world.
Tick Tick Boom, written by Larson, about his time trying to make Superbia. A musical no one knows or cares about. So that would be strike one for this film. The songs here are from Jonathan himself – but he hasn’t gotten them quite right yet – and that would be strike two.
Much like The Beatle’s newly released “Get Back” documentary – you get kind of a glimpse of how Jonathan worked and struggled in the early days. Granted, Jonathan is not the Beatles living some incredible exotic and interesting life, and that would be strike three. Jonathan did not live an amazing life – he was a starving artist like everyone else at that time in NYC. He died at only 35 years old, and unfortunately so did most of his friends, most actually were younger.
AIDS was raging at the time in NYC and no one in our government would address it, in fact, some said the death sentence was deserved for that life style. So they were no help and the people were left to fend for it on their own. So many amazing people and artists were lost in that era, but thankfully the film does not go into that arena of thought too deeply – Jonathan stays focused on Jonathan and his Superbia journey. Again, a musical that goes nowhere and that most people, even theater lovers, know nothing about.
The one interesting thing here is the strong relationship with Jonathan Larson and Stephen Sondhiem. I was not aware of it, and I think it is absolutely wonderful. For those unfamiliar, Mr Sondhiem is New York’s Broadway Demi-God. The man has 9 Tony Awards, and did such classics as West Side Story, Gypsy, and Into The Woods. To learn he fostered relationships with the young and brilliant musical minds like Jonathan Larson was very gratifying to learn.
Other than this little nugget of gold, there isn’t much here to rave about. I think Lin-Manuel did a great job directing and I hope he does more films. Andrew Garfield is really fun to watch here and you could tell he was over the moon to play a character like this. Andrew absolutely dances and sings his heart out.
If you want to learn a little about Larson, this is a good film to watch. It’s not purely biographical, but it’s something Larson wrote about himself – so you get glimpse of who he was, and see his work grow from this to what it eventually blossomed into with RENT. RENT is never shown nor mentioned in this one, because he hadn’t written it yet, so don’t get your hopes up if that’s the reason you see this film.
On a lighter note, Judith Light (Angela from Who’s The Boss) makes an appearance here, with a very strong New York accent that will haunt you for days. Her accent will haunt you, but don’t worry, Jonathan Larson’s songs will lift you right back up.