What we’re obsessed with: ‘Tick, Tick ... Boom!’

Andrew Garfield and a keyboard
Andrew Garfield portrays Jonathan Larson in “Tick, Tick ... Boom!”
(Macall Polay/Netflix)

San Diego Union-Tribune editors and writers share what they’re currently obsessing over.

What I’m obsessed with: “Tick, Tick ... Boom!” is an autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, written before he created the blockbuster musical, “Rent.” “Tick, Tick ... Boom!,” which was performed as a workshop in the 1990s and Off Broadway in 2001, is now a Netflix movie directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Why: I shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t really like “Rent,” Larson’s 1994 rock musical about struggling New York artists and the AIDS crisis. “Rent” was inspired by Puccini’s 1896 opera, “La Bohème,” and I think that’s why it’s always felt over-the-top and disingenuous to me. “Tick, Tick ... Boom!” tells a similar story about young people wrestling with choosing a life of art or one of stability, along with the heartbreak of AIDS, only in a much more intimate and honest way.

What’s the story?: The title “Tick, Tick ... Boom!” refers to the clock Larson felt was always ticking over his career, and the story is basically a musical about the pressure of writing a musical. Andrew Garfield charmingly plays Larson as he’s getting ready to present his futuristic musical, “Superbia,” to a group of Broadway producers, a project that never did get picked up. The movie version enhances the musical by expanding the monologues and showcasing more of Larson’s life before he died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm at age 35.

Andrew Garfield answering a phone in a diner
Andrew Garfield portrays composer-lyricist Jonathan Larson in “Tick, Tick ... Boom!”
(Macall Polay / Netflix)

So many theater nerd things: You don’t need to know anything about theater to enjoy “Tick, Tick ... Boom!,” but for people who live and breathe Broadway, there are tons of Easter Eggs throughout the nearly two-hour movie. Pay attention to the Writer’s Workshop scene. You’ll see the audience is filled with high-profile musical theater writers,including Marc Shaiman (“Hairspray”), Jeanine Tesori (“Fun Home”), Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”), Quiara Alegría Hudes (“In the Heights”), Alex Lacamoire (“Hamilton”) and many more.

So many theater nerd things part 2: The song “Sunday” — a movie highlight — takes place in the crowded diner where Larson worked. This number is overflowing with musical theater stars, including Joel Grey, Chita Rivera, André de Shields, Bebe Neuwirth, Bernadette Peters and original “Rent” cast members Daphne Rubin Vega, Adam Pascal and Wilson Jermaine Heredia, among many others.There are so many more references, including subtle nods to “Rent,” that it warrants repeat viewings to catch everything.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as director: Both Larson and Miranda wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning blockbuster musicals, so who else but Miranda can bring honesty and heart to the struggling, all-consuming job of writing for musical theater? Miranda, in his directorial debut, does a beautiful job with “Tick, Tick ... Boom!,” turning a relatively obscure musical into a love letter to Larson.

“Tick, Tick ... Boom!” is streaming on Netflix.