By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Reporter
Once upon a time in West Lake Village, a girl memorized all the lyrics to Rent– a musical written by a man who died before he knew he had a hit.
“A friend of mine had it on CD and we just played it over and over again. I remember I walked into a room and all my friends were just singing it and thinking: ‘This is amazing’ and ‘Why don’t I know what it is?’ I figured out what it was and then became obsessed with it,” said Julie Oh.
It was that passion for Rent and its playwright Jonathan Larson which would one day lead her to Lin Manuel Miranda and the play Tick, Tick Boom! which Larson also wrote. Today Oh is the producer of the film version of Tick Tick Boom!, a Netflix movie that’s garnering award attention.
Oh wasn’t alone. Before Hamilton, Rent is the musical that brought a younger generation into the theaters. Rent garnered posthumous Tonys for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1997 for Larson.
Larson died at his home the very day of that “Rent” made its first off-Broadway preview performance, 25 January 1996.
Lin-Manuel Miranda cited Rent as his main source of inspiration for his Broadway hit, Hamilton. Miranda, who makes his debut as a director with Tick, Tick…Boom! was also instrumental in getting Oh interested in the original stage production.
Oh explained, “I got to see Tick, Tick…Boom! in 2014. It was a production of Encores!”
Oh continued, “I was lucky enough to get a ticket to one of the performances. I was in the back in the mezzanine and it was Lin-Manuel Miranda playing Jon and Leslie Odom Junior playing Michael and Karen Olivo playing Susan. It was a year before Hamilton opened.”
Tick, Tick…Boom! is about a struggling songwriter who is working on a science fiction musical in hopes that it will lift him out of poverty. To make ends meet, he works at a diner. Based on several versions of Larson’s rock opera, the film’s screenplay was written by Steven Levenson who wrote the book for Dear Evan Hansen for which he won a Tony Award).
Oh quickly got in contact with Larson’s estate, but was warned that the family was very protective because this was Larson’s most autobiographical musical. Still, Oh felt, “The themes were so undeniable and expansive that it has to be a movie.” Eventually, Oh approached Larson’s sister. “I give all credit to Julie Larson (McCollum.) who is Larson’s sister who has championed and protected his work for the last 25 years….I asked for her blessing to approach Lin-Manuel Miranda.” From the start, Oh felt that Miranda was the only person who, even as a first-time director, could do justice to the material. Oh explained, “Julie Larson and the Larson family and Lin have their own personal relationship. They’ve been in contact for the last 20 years because Larson was a hero of his.”
Julie agreed that Miranda was the one who could do justice to the material. After an email to Miranda who was in London filming Mary Poppins Returns, Oh got a lightning-quick affirmative response from Miranda, Oh was on the plane to England. Remembering her first meeting with Miranda, Oh said, “It was an immediate alignment of what making a movie would mean to both of us and what it would mean to an entire generation of artists.”
Filming began in March 2020 and just as quickly closed down, but Miranda, Oh noted, is the kind of person who sees possibilities everywhere and open to listening and adapting, particularly as a first-time director. When filming finally resumed for Tick, Tick…Boom!” Broadway was still dark. While that might have been discouraging for the acting community in New York City, it also allowed the cast and crew to film in the very room where Larson had done his unsuccessful science fiction musical. Tick, Tick…Boom! follows his personal struggles writing and mounting a showcase for that musical.
Both Miranda and Oh were enthusiastic about Andrew Garfield’s casting in the role of Jonathan. “I love that Andrew says he wasn’t sure he could sing. We both were such fans of Andrew’s work on the stage.” Oh cited his performance in Death of a Salesman and Angels of America. Garfield starred in Angels in America and won a Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play. The play also won a Best Revival of a Play and the Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured role in a Play for Nathan Lane.
At the world premiere of Tick, Tick…Boom! at AFI Fest, Garfield and Miranda appeared for a Q&A. Miranda credited Oh for getting the ball rolling on this project. Miranda is also credited as a producer as well as Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (Oscar-winning producer for A Beautiful Mind) .
Oh felt that Netflix was the best home for this film, saying, “We had so many different options to go with when we were thinking about the right home for the film. But the idea that the movie is out in the world and anyone can watch it over and over and over again, and has access to it regardless of where they live, regardless of whether a theater in their town is playing the movie, that was our greatest hope.”
Now that the film is finally out, Oh said, “I couldn’t be prouder watching the final movie now.” And that’s not just promotional talk. The film is getting a lot of buzz for award season. The film made its world premiere on 10 November 2021 and had a limited theatrical release starting on 12 November.
Tick, Tick…Boom! was listed on the Top 10 Movies of the Year by the American Film Institute Awards and the Hollywood Critics Association Awards has nominated the film for eight awards, including Best Comedy or Musical, Best First Feature and Best Actor. Streaming on Netflix began on 19 November 2021.
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