Tick Tick Boom
Sounds like it’s going to be a thriller, doesn’t it. A race against time to stop a some mad criminal, like Speed or Mission Impossible.
Doesn’t sound like a musical, but it is. Based on John Larson’s autobiographical stage show, Tick Tick Boom covers the weeks leading up to a “presentation” – like a rehearsed reading, and singing, with band – of Larson’s first musical Superbia. The idea is that producers see the presentation and decide whether or not they want the show for a Broadway, or more realistically, off-Broadway, run.
Plot spoiler: they don’t.
Lin-Manuel Miranda's film is engaging, and almost exciting (but not in a Mission Impossible kind of way), because there are several dramatic storylines. The main thrust is Larson’s crisis, because he’s nearly thirty and has had no success whatsoever, while his friends are building successful careers. His girlfriend has a job offer out of town – should he go with her, meaning leaving New York and abandoning his dream of getting a musical produced? Or ask her not to go? Or hear her say goodbye, because his career is more important to him than hers. More important than she is herself?
Then there’s the last minute struggle to write the main showstopping song, which Stephen Sondheim no less, says it needs. And his best friend is HIV-positive (this is the 80’s), which puts Larson’s egocentric sense that he’s running out of time into perspective.
Two dramas aren’t even in the film, but most fans will know them anyway: Larson did find success, with the rock musical Rent. It ran on Broadway for twelve years, but Larson died of an aneurism the week before it opened.
Why am I blogging about this film? I’m not a writer of musicals. (But it’s a thought… just need the 10,000 hours learning to play the piano and another 10,000 composing. Start tomorrow, then…)
I’m writing because Tick Tick Boom is as complete a study of creativity as I can recall. The obsession, the sacrifice, the egoism coupled with self-doubt, the sense of futility, and imposter syndrome at any small success. It is Mission Impossible after all. The question is, whether this is all trivial in the context of real-world tragedies.
Plot-spoiler: it isn’t.