‘Rent’ creator’s friends reveal tragic, true tale of ‘Tick Tick … Boom!’

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“Tick, Tick … Boom!” — an aboriginal philharmonic by Jonathan Larson, who created “Rent” — was calved of sadness, choler and frustration.

In the precocious 1980s, Larson learned that Matt O’Grady, his champion person from childhood, had contracted HIV. Working successful the theater, Larson knew respective radical who had AIDS. Now it was threatening idiosyncratic he’d known astir of his life.

“Matt’s diagnosis shocked him,” Victoria Leacock, a adjacent person of Larson’s from college, told The Post. “He realized that you don’t cognize however overmuch clip you have. It’s finite. And however you walk it matters.”

At the aforesaid time, Larson was struggling with his stalled vocation aspirations. He wanted to constitute stone musicals that dealt with modern issues astatine a infinitesimal erstwhile popular operas from Britain — “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera” — dominated Broadway. Larson had written immoderate awesome scores, and had received a fewer prestigious grants and awards, but thing helium did went anywhere. And helium was pressed financially. His 30th day was coming up successful 1990, but helium was inactive moving arsenic a waiter astatine the Moondance Diner successful Soho.

Andrew Garfield (right) arsenic  Jonathan Larson (left) successful  “Tick, Tick…Boom!"Andrew Garfield (right) arsenic Jonathan Larson (left) successful the movie mentation of “Tick, Tick … Boom!”Netflix

Larson statesman penning the autobiographical “Tick, Tick … Boom!” successful 1989. Now, much than 3 decades later, “Tick, Tick … Boom!’ is simply a movie, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Andrew Garfield. It opens successful theaters Nov. 12 and begins streaming connected Netflix Nov. 19.

Sadly, Larson isn’t astir to spot it, nor did helium get to acquisition the well-received off-Broadway accumulation that opened successful 2001. He died successful 1996 at 35 from an aortic dissection caused by Marfan Syndrome, a familial information that affects the body’s connective tissue.


Larson wrote “Tick, Tick … Boom!” aft 2 different shows he’d been moving connected fell apart. One was a modern adaptation of Puccini’s “La Boheme.” He’d written 3 songs, including the rubric song, “Rent,” with his collaborator, Billy Aronson. But Larson and Aronson’s visions didn’t mesh. Aronson wanted the amusement to instrumentality spot connected the yuppie Upper West Side. Larson wanted to acceptable it connected the bohemian Lower East Side. They were astatine loggerheads.

The different amusement was called “Superbia.” A sprawling, futuristic musical, it took purpose astatine the corporate-controlled, mind-numbing amusement culture. Stephen Sondheim, who had befriended Larson, thought the score, a premix of rock, caller wave, techno and Broadway, was impressive. The publication was not. “It was unresolvable,” Sondheim told maine erstwhile I interviewed him for my 2020 book, “Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway.”

Playwrights Horizons staged a workshop, but past dropped the show. Nobody other picked it up. Producers told Larson it was excessively large for off-Broadway and excessively precocious for Broadway.

“Jonathan was devastated by that,” his sister Julie Larson told The Post. “So helium went to enactment connected a amusement that was conscionable him, a soft and a band. Nobody could archer him it’s excessively big.”

Inspired by Simon Gray’s autobiographical “Swimming to Cambodia” and Eric Bogosian’s “Talk Radio” — some one-man shows — Larson conceived “Tick, Tick … Boom!” arsenic a stone monologue delivered by a struggling composer named Jon. He wrote songs and speeches astir his vocation frustrations, O’Grady’s HIV diagnosis, a fraught narration helium was having with a pistillate dancer, adjacent his agent, who had stopped returning his calls. He primitively called it “30/90,” a notation to his looming 30th birthday.

Leslie Odom Jr., Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo during the opening   nighttime  show  of  "Tick, Tick...Boom!" successful  2014.Leslie Odom Jr., Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo during the opening nighttime show of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” successful 2014.Getty Images

Larson invited Leacock to his ramshackle fourth-floor walk-up connected Greenwich Street to perceive a cassette portion he’d made of his songs. “You’d beryllium successful beforehand of his speakers and listen, and he’d look straight astatine your face, trying to fig retired your reaction,” she said. “It was precise intense.”

Leacock told him the songs, brimming with choler and disappointment, were terrific. But, she added, “I recognize wherefore you don’t privation to bash this anymore. I don’t recognize wherefore you inactive do.” Larson was taken aback. The adjacent time helium phoned and played her a opus he’d written overnight. He called it “Why.” It summed up his life: He was happiest penning shows, and helium would proceed to bash truthful whether they got produced oregon not.

“There was a consciousness of ticking time,” Julie Larson said. “But, honestly, I don’t deliberation helium earnestly ever considered doing thing else.”

Second Stage, a tiny nonprofit theater, produced a staged speechmaking of the show, which Larson retitled “BoHo Days.” When Robyn Goodman, the theater’s creator director, met Larson, helium told her, “I’m going to bring stone ‘n’ rotation backmost to Broadway.”

Jonathan Larson and Victoria Leacock successful  archetypal   production.Jonathan Larson and Victoria Leacock successful the archetypal production.Victoria Leacock Hoffman

“He wasn’t arrogant astir it,” Goodman told The Post. “He truly meant it. He was obsessed, successful a fantastic way.”

Larson insisted connected performing the amusement himself. And that was a problem. The songs were good, but the publication was unfocused. Goodman wanted to prosecute an histrion to play Jon. That way, Larson could ore connected the storytelling. Larson refused. It was his life, and helium wanted to execute it. After the reading, Second Stage dropped “BoHo Days.”

But Jeffrey Seller, an aspiring shaper moving arsenic a booker successful a Broadway accumulation office, caught a show of “BoHo Days.” It made him cry. “Here was a antheral telling his beingness communicative that I felt was my beingness story, and telling it successful a philharmonic vernacular that was giving maine goose bumps,” helium told maine for “Singular Sensation.”

The adjacent day, Seller wrote Larson a letter: “Your enactment – music, lyrics, and spoken connection – has an affectional powerfulness and resonance that I person seldom experienced successful the theatre. You’re besides insightful, perceptive, and precise funny.” He added, “Like you, I privation to bash large things successful the theatre.”

A fewer days later, they met for a portion astatine a barroom adjacent New York University. Seller, who would 1 time nutrient “Hamilton,” was struck by Larson’s determination to bring modern euphony to Broadway. “He was connected a ngo to alteration the world,” Seller recalled.

With Second Stage retired of the picture, Leacock stepped successful to nutrient the amusement — present connected its 3rd title, “Tick, Tick … Boom!” — astatine the Village Gate. During method rehearsals, they learned that 1 of their adjacent friends, Pam Shaw, had contracted AIDS. Another friend, Alison “Ali” Gertz, 1 of the archetypal heterosexuals to admit publically she had AIDS, was getting sicker. And they recovered retired that yet different friend, Gordon Rogers, was HIV-positive. (All 3 died of AIDS. Matt O’Grady, connected the different hand, ne'er developed AIDS and is inactive alive.)

“We had gone from a situation to a plague,” said Leacock. “And it was evident to Jonathan that the palette of ‘Tick’ conscionable wasn’t large capable to woody with the nightmare we were surviving through.”

When helium finished his tally astatine the Village Gate, Larson went backmost to “Rent.” Aronson, his penning spouse connected the show, agreed to fto him spell it alone. He wrote a country astir an AIDS enactment group. He named 3 of the characters successful the country Ali, Pam and Gordon.

Director Lin-Manuel Miranda connected  the movie   acceptable   of the 'tick, tick... Boom' successful  2020.Director Lin-Manuel Miranda connected the movie acceptable of “Tick, Tick … Boom!” successful 2020.GC Images

Five years later, “Rent” was successful rehearsals astatine the New York Theater Workshop, with Jeffrey Seller arsenic 1 of its producers. After the formal rehearsal Jan. 24, 1996, Larson, who had not been feeling good and had been to the exigency country twice, returned to his Greenwich Street flat (its jammed bookshelves, ablution successful the room and keyboard by the model are meticulously recreated successful the movie).

Around 12:30 a.m. Jan. 25, helium enactment connected the teakettle — and collapsed. His aorta had torn open. His roommate recovered him dormant connected the room level astatine 3:30 a.m.


After “Rent” became a worldwide sensation, producers looked astatine everything Larson had written. Goodman and Leacock wanted to nutrient “Tick, Tick … Boom!” Larson’s parents were successful favor, but his sister was not. “It would person been excessively achy arsenic a one-man show,” she said. “It didn’t consciousness close to maine that idiosyncratic would beryllium up determination playing Johnny.”

Goodman and Leacock brought successful David Auburn, a Tony Award-winning playwright, to rewrite the script. He added 2 characters. One was based connected Matt O’Grady; the different connected the dancer Larson was dating portion penning “Tick, Tick … Boom!” As a three-character enclosure piece, it was “lovely,” said Julie Larson.

Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp co-star successful  the caller   film. Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp co-star successful the caller film. Netflix

She’s pleased with Miranda’s movie, for which she receives enforcement shaper credit.

“Tick, Tick … Boom!” is “always going to beryllium tinged with analyzable emotions,” she said, but the movie “beautifully highlights an artist’s infinite assurance and implicit despair, and the tottering betwixt the two.”