The ‘tick, tick … BOOM!’ from Netflix based on the late ‘Barnie’ Jonathan Larson
When Jonathan Larson was ready to begin his professional career in theater, he left his hometown of New York for the small village of Augusta, Michigan.
It was the summer of 1980, and Larson was a student at Aldephi University with the dream of becoming the Stephen Sondheim of his generation, the famous composer he idolized.
Larson joined the Barn Theater in Augusta, spending two summers with the stock company writing, acting and enduring audiences in southwest Michigan while earning his Actors’ Equity Association card as “Barnie.”
“Jon came to us as a wide-eyed apprentice,” recalls Barn Theater owner Brendan Ragotzy. “He’s an individual who really had energy… he had that self-confidence.”
A decade after his time in Augusta, Larson wrote an autobiographical rock monologue titled “tick, tick … Boom!” The playwright would later be acclaimed for “Rent,” although he never lived to see it, dying hours before the public premiere of the Pulitzer-winning, Tony Award-winning rock musical. . He was 35 years old.
In November, Netflix released “tick, tick … BOOM!” with Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights” and “Hamilton”) making his directorial debut. The film adaptation stars Andrew Garfield as a semi-fictional Larson, who is in a creative struggle to write the perfect musical as he nears his 30th birthday.
The film holds an overall critical rating of 88% on the Rotten Tomatoes review site, with an audience score of 95%. Garfield, who learned to play the piano for the role, garners special praise for his portrayal of Larson, making him one of the early contenders for Best Leading Actor in awards season.
At the Barn Theater, Larson served as the pianist and musical director of the company’s bar show. He has appeared in six theatrical productions, including “Oklahoma! “,” Damn Yankees “and” Whose Life is it Anyways? »Alongside Ragotzy, Tom Wopat and the late Marin Mazzie.
“He’s built a great relationship here. His years have been very talented bands. We feed off each other,” Ragotzy said. “Jonathan has always been positive. We work long hours here, and he always seemed to have energy.”
Upon returning to New York City to graduate from Aldephi University, Larson directed his first school musical. He then moved on spartan terms to Lower Manhattan, where he worked for nine years at the since-closed Moondance Diner, while continuing to write and compose musicals alongside his roommates.
In 1991, Larson completed his autobiographical rock musical, “30/90” – later renamed “Boho Days” and eventually “tick, tick … BOOM!” – as a solo work, performed off Broadway. During this time, he continued to work on “Rent”, loosely based on the opera “La Bohème”, about a group of impoverished artists struggling for their survival amid the HIV / AIDS epidemic.
On January 25, 1996, the morning of the first off-Broadway performance of “Rent,” Larson died at his home of an aortic aneurysm, believed to have been caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome.
Larson’s work has won numerous posthumous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Theater and the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score. “Rent” lasted 12 years on Broadway and was adapted into a film of the same name in 2005.
The Barn Theater is one of the countless companies around the world that have staged the musical.
“Jonathan died very early in his life. But at 35, he marked the American musical theater circuit,” said Ragotzy. “‘Rent’ is played all over the world. It made an impact with this show.”
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at [email protected] or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley