I had expected Tick, Tick, Boom! to be an interesting story with a solid cast. I hadn't expected to spend a good thirty minutes weeping at the end 😂 Weirdly, if I'd had to guess what might deal an emotional sucker-punch, I'd have likely said the AIDS epidemic, but that guess would have come from a misunderstanding of what the story on offer was. I'd assumed this was the story of how Rent was created; a snapshot into Jonathan Larson's life as he created his eternal masterpiece. That's not really the case. TTB is more about how he failed to write a different, potential masterpiece – or at least, failed to get it produced, even after everyone involved claimed it was exceptional (including the master himself, Stephen Sondheim).
I also hadn't realised how much the plot was fictional, nor that TTB had been a play first and foremost; a one-man (sort of) show that Larson had written and performed in, directly after his failure with the whole rock opera about Facebook (just before Facebook was a thing). To be clear, the rock opera was real enough, as was his relationship with Sondheim, his apartment and living conditions, and even his close connections to the AIDs epidemic and that queer world in general. But pretty much all of the characters are at least a little made up. His best friend, Michael, whose diagnosis (and subsequent duet) was the straw that broke the camel's back for my ability to hold in the tears, doesn't exist (I needed closure, okay 😄). Larson did have a childhood friend who ended up with AIDs (and lived!), and another close friend who was an actor that he lived with, but Michael is a mish-mash of the two of them, with an invented back story, personality, and livelihood.
Similarly, Larson did do some freelance work with jingle writers, and did have a dancer on-again, off-again girlfriend, but the actual characters and scenes in the film and play are fiction. The show doesn't attempt to hide this, either. The film opens with a statement saying that it is based in fact, apart from the bits that Larson invented, and leaves it up to the audience to decide where those lines are drawn.
And that's kind of great. It makes for a compelling, neat package of a story, that likely would be a lot more nebulous and complex if "true to life". It provides a meaningful backdrop to the commentaries and ideas being presented, without getting in their way. And it results in an eminently enjoyable, emotionally rich narrative with a great set of characters, perfect pacing, and some extremely entertaining songs. It gives the story license to be imaginative and avant-garde, even whimsical or fantastical at times; to take liberties and make bold statements. It works, and it works really well.
That the story is backed up by some riveting performances – particularly by Andrew Garfield, who appears to be having a sort of mini-renaissance in his career which I am here for – and very competent direction, makes for a brilliant time. You can tell that Lin-Manuel Miranda is involved throughout (even without the cameo), it just has a tightness to the musicality and framing that feels very similar to his other work. Overall, I had a blast, even if it kicked me in the feels, hard. Fully recommended!