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The Tragic True Story Behind Netflix’s New Musical, ‘Tick Tick… Boom!’

Andrew Garfield plays famed composer, Jonathan Larson.

For fans of Rent, Netflix’s new semi-autobiographical movie Tick, Tick… Boom! will hit close to home. 

The newly released musical film is based on the life of Jonathan Larson, the musical composer behind the gripping storyline and music of the globally renowned Broadway show. 

Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the movie is heavily dramatised—the musical genius becomes a musical in and of himself—but there are some intriguing (and at times, dark) themes explored in its narrative that match up to the real events that took place during Larson’s career. 

Of Spiderman notoriety, Andrew Garfield gives a haunting performance as the troubled musician in the Netflix film. He’s joined by Alexandrea Shipp who plays his love interest Susan and Vanessa Hudgens who plays a Broadway performer, Karessa. 

The storyline centres around Larson’s early days as a budding songwriter. With his 30th birthday looming, he must choose between following his dreams in pursuing musicals or opting for financial comfort when he’s offered a high-paying job. 

Whether you’ve seen the film already or you’re mid-way through and wanting to decipher what’s fact and what’s fiction, scroll on. Here, we look at the true story that inspired Tick, Tick… Boom!

(Credit: Netflix)

The true story behind Tick, Tick… Boom!

Tick, Tick… Boom! is based on the true story of musical composer Jonathan Larson who was best known for writing Rent. The film itself is based on a autobiographical musical he also wrote just before he turned 30 in the late 1980s. In it, he delves into his struggles as a budding composer living below the poverty line.

Larson writes of being offered a position in a high paying marketing role. He was forced to choose between that or to continue to pursuing his dreams in musical-making—a lifestyle that left him financially insecure, but at his happiest. 

(Credit: Netflix)

Who was Susan, Jonathan Larson’s partner?

In the Netflix musical, Larson dates Susan, a family-orientated woman who who attempts to stall him from pursing his musical career so they can have children together. 

In real life, Susan actually never existed. Per filmmaker Lin-Manuel Miranda, Larson provided several “gifts” when he wrote Tick, Tick… Boom!—two different characters who varied from his real life acquaintances. 

“Even in his original drafts, they were always semi-autobiographical. Susan’s not really the name of his girlfriend, Michael is not really the name of his best friend,” Miranda confirmed. 

What we do know about Larson’s romantic past is that he dated a woman named Victoria Leacock, who later became a producer on the Broadway production of Tick, Tick… Boom! 

Per The Cultural CriticLeacock said she fell for Larson because he was “funny, articulate, and had strong opinions”.

“Some people might say he was opinionated. I’d say he just was self confident. He knew he had talent, and he did, so that wasn’t being cocky.”

It’s understood they broke up during the 1980s, but remained friends. It’s unclear as to whether Leacock is portrayed by any specific character in Tick, Tick… Boom!

How did Jonathan Larson die? 

Johnathan Larson tragically passed away on January 25, 1996 aged just 35 years old following an aortic dissection. Doctors believed this was caused due to an illness known as Marfan Syndrome, a condition that affects connective tissue in the heart, eyes, blood vessels and the bones. 

Larson’s illness was previously misdiagnosed as both influenza and general stress—it’s believed that if he was diagnosed sooner and treated correctly, he could have lived longer despite having the illness. 

When did Jonathan Larson write Rent?

WritingTick, Tick… Boom! actually inspired Larson to write Rent.

Having delved so intensely into his own experience of poverty, Larson was compelled to write about the struggles experienced by those dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis whilst being marginalised and living below the poverty line in New York City in the late 1980s. 

Thus, he wrote the musical after wrapping Tick, Tick… Boom! in the early 1990s. Devastatingly, he actually died the night before the Rent’s off-Broadway premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop. 

The show went on to have major global success, earning a 15-year run on Broadway, three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer prize.

Where can I watch Tick, Tick… Boom! in Australia?

The musical is available to stream via Netflix. Login or sign up to watch it here. 

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