To be an artist is to entertain the fear of doubt and live an obscure life. To create art each and every day and “hope,” I will write it again, “hope” that one day, someone will read it, listen to it, or watch it. You hope that your creativity will change his or her life. That’s the dream. And like all dreams, it only happens to the Lucky Ones. Jonathan Larson worked on his musical play, Superbia, for eight years. He burnt his youth, pleading with the producers to produce Superbia. Jonathan Larson was on the verge of 30 when Tick, Tick, Boom premiered, and he was still relatively unknown on the Broadway circuit. It wasn’t creativity that he struggled with; it was failure, rejection, and doubt that made him vulnerable.
Tick, Tick… Boom! is a film directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who makes his directorial debut. It is based on American playwright Jonathan Larson’s play of the same name. The play, like the film, is a semi-biographical piece of art in which Larson shares his experience and struggles as an artist. Larson died young at the age of 35, but his last play, Rent, became one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Sadly, Larson never saw the success he dreamt of.
What was Superbia?
Superbia was a science fiction satire rock musical play inspired by George Orwell’s acclaimed novel, 1984. The story portrayed a civilization glued to their screens, watching the extraordinary lives of the affluent like TV shows. No, Jonathan Larson didn’t invent Instagram.
His rock musical satire depicted a civilization devoid of human emotions. The kind of films we make today. That was visionary. In the film, Larson’s inspiration, Stephen Sondheim, commented that through Superbia, Larson created a really original world. It had first-rate music and tunes. The piece was influential, but Larson’s agent, Rosa Stevens, said it wouldn’t sell. Producers sell what sells, not what artists create. They need money, not creativity. For eight years, it was probably a reason for Superbia’s rejection.
The Many Struggles with Superbia
The film begins with Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) performing his monologue musical play, Tick, Tick… Boom! He narrated the incident of the January 1990s, weeks before his 30th birthday. At that time, Larson waited tables at the Moondance Diner to survive in New York. And in the meantime, he pitched his most ambitious musical, Superbia, to producers.
Larson struggled to make art. Not because he was untalented, but because New York was (is) expensive. His longtime girlfriend, Susan, who was a dancer, wanted to move to the Berkshires. She was accepted for a job as a dance instructor and wanted Larson to move with her. But Larson wanted to stay close to Broadway. Even after 8 years, Larson hoped that someone, someday, would produce Superbia.
With love fleeting away, another friend decided to bend his dream. When you are 30, unemployed in a big city, you really start doubting yourself. That’s what happened to Larson’s childhood friend, Michael. He came to New York with Larson to become an actor, but soon realized it wasn’t his cup of tea. Michael got a fancy job at an advertising company and moved out of the apartment.
But that was not the end of it. Ira Weitzman, head of the musical theater at Playwright Horizons, offered Larson the chance to put on a workshop on Superbia. After eight long years, finally, someone showed an interest in Larson’s play. But tragically, the play wasn’t complete. Superbia was missing a song in the second act. With so many disappointments around, Larson struggled to pen down the lyrics for Superbia, which was to be presented to an audience in six days.
The Final Rejection
Larson finally wrote the song a day before the presentation at Playwrights Horizons. His agent, Rosa Stevens, and his inspiration, Stephen Sondheim, attended the workshop, and everyone loved it. Yet, Superbia was never produced.
When Larson called Rosa after the show to hear the producer’s verdict, she told him it was a tough sell. The producers won’t spend on a show with spaceships and robots. The show was extremely expensive and would probably end up as a commercial disaster. She rejected Superbia and advised Larson to write another piece. One after another, until something sticks.
A Disaster For Things To Change
Susan left Larson. She started a new relationship with another girl and wasn’t returning. His play, on which he worked for eight years, was rejected. Larson was turning 30. He told Michael that his inspiration, Stephen Sondheim, had written his first play at 27, and Larson was not even close to him. He wished to put an end to his struggle and work in a secure job like Michael. Larson said he didn’t have enough time to waste.
When Larson was on the verge of giving up, Michael told him that he was HIV positive. He was the one running out of time and thus advised Larson to do what he really believed in, while he still had time in the world. Shaken by the incident, Larson returned to his apartment, where a new ray of hope-filled him with inspiration.
Stephen Sondheim called Larson and congratulated him on his excellent work on Superbia. The compliments motivated Larson, and he decided to embark on a new adventure, a new musical play about his failure, Tick, Tick… Boom! When Rosa rejected Superbia, she advised Larson to try writing about something he knew. Well, for him, what could have been a better subject than his failures and rejections. Interestingly, Tick, Tick… Boom! is all about Larson’s artistic tragedies.
Larson once noted in his diary, “Why does it take a disaster for things to change.” The tragedies and disasters in Larson’s life motivated him to leave behind Superbia and start anew. The new plays changed his life.
‘Tick, Tick Boom’ Ending, Explained
After a successful run of Tick, Tick, Boom! Larson wrote “Rent,” which ran on Broadway for 12 years and became one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history.
However, Jonathan never got to see the success of Rent. He died before its first public performance. Larson suffered from a sudden aortic aneurysm when he was 35 years old.
The tragedy of being an artist is that sometimes you are born at the wrong time, in the wrong generation. In his lifetime, Van Gogh sold just one painting. He was never famous, and he died in poverty. Today, the money hoarders say he would have been the richest artist in the world. For Jonathan Larson, his play Superbia was futuristic. Today, so many titles are coming out with similar science fiction themes, and producers are ready to invest because it sells. But in the 1990s, no one dared.
Though Larson got the recognition he deserved, it came too late. If someone had trusted in him, or dared to produce his Superbia, he could have given us many more interesting titles to explore. But if an artist’s journey lies in his tragedies, then indeed, Larson lived a great artistic life.
Tick, Tick, Boom! is a 2021 biopic musical drama film directed by debut director Lin-Manuel Miranda. It is based on Jonathan Larson’s play of the same name.