Netflix Recreates 90s Magic of ‘Rent’ Creator Jonathan Larson’s Life

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When Jonathan Larson was writing the Broadway blockbuster RENT in the 1990s his primary job was as a waiter at the Moondance Diner in Manhattan.

Much of his time working at the diner is portrayed in his musical tick tick… Boom!, and its 2021 film adaptation starring Andrew Garfield, currently streaming on Netflix.

Larson, who worked at the diner for 9 1/2 years, was an American composer, lyricist, and playwright noted for exploring the social issues of multiculturalism, addiction, and homophobia in his work.

Typical examples of his use of these themes are found in his musicals Rent and tick, tick… Boom! He received three posthumous Tony Awards and a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the rock musical Rent.

Rent, Larson said, was he and Playwright Billy Aronson’s reimagining of 19th century hit La Bohème. Which he described as a “a musical inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, in which the luscious splendor of Puccini’s world would be replaced with the coarseness and noise of modern New York.”

Rent, which began after his untimely death at 35, played through its planned engagement off-Broadway in 1993 to sold-out crowds  was continually extended until it made the move to Broadway, and it opened at the Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996.

And it’s never stopped.

GQ magazine says of Garfield’s star turn in the film: “As Larson, Garfield is liberated. The film centers on the composer before he’s written Rent, with his worries of unfulfilled potential manifesting as a ticking sound in his head. Garfield’s Larson is all hair and elbows and big belting voice in his attempts to quiet it down. It’s a showy part, but one that also allowed him to get at the deeper ideas he’s long tackled in his work. “Andrew Garfield as a searcher has met his match in Jonathan Larson,” Miranda says. “You have to understand: Jonathan Larson was the kind of guy who would write himself existential questions, and then write songs as the responses to those existential questions. How do you measure a year? emerges as ‘525,600 minutes.’ I think Andrew found a kindred spirit in that, because Jonathan became a way for him to ask those big questions too.”

 

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Variety:Despite the ubiquity of Rent, few people know much about the musical’s creator, Larson, except for the way he died, tragically young and on the precipice of great success. Larson suffered an aortic aneurysm on the morning of the first preview performance of Rent in 1996 at age 35. A rare heart condition called Marfan syndrome went undiagnosed, despite his complaints of severe chest pain and dizziness for days prior. He would not live to see Rent win four Tony Awards including best musical, capture a Pulitzer Prize for drama, mount more than 5,000 performances to date or invent the Broadway lottery ticket system in order to feed the high demand from fans of all income brackets.

The film was directed and adapted by Lin Manuel Miranda.

Miranda says after the debacle at SONY following The Amazing Spider-Man, “Garfield is much happier drawing the focus back to Tick, Tick especially given the purpose he placed behind it — to honor his late mother.

“I can feel her smiling at that. She was someone who was taken arguably too soon, even though we don’t get to decide. There are certain things you can’t control. What I started to understand through her loss is that we’re all leaving with a half-finished song,” he says. “Being a part of this film with Lin and the rest of the company, I’m able to sing Jon’s songs and I’m able to hold my mother’s unfinished song in the lyrics and the music that Jon wrote. His work has become a container for that.”

He hopes that audiences will reap the same benefit.

Netflix brought back the Moondance Diner Food Truck (the original diner closed in 2012) for one day only this past weekend in celebration of the release of tick, tick…BOOM! The event featured Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and more.