With the release of Lin Manuel Miranda’s first film as director, this eccentric take on Jonathon Larson’s autobiographical musical Tick Tick Boom, there has come a revival of interest in his Larson’s other successful musical, Rent.
The film follows Jonathon Larson, a musical writer in the 80’s struggling to get his science-fiction musical to take off while working at a diner. Top that off with his girlfriend Susan—a fictional take on his previous real-life girlfriend—wishing to move away for a job and wanting him to follow, and his strained relationship with his best friend Michael as he climbs the ranks in an advertising company. Although his workshop of Superbia, the musical he spent 8 years working on, didn’t go anywhere past that, Larson’s agent gave him vital advice to any artist: write about what you know.
His next musical was Tick Tick Boom, followed by Rent, which exploded into popularity, tackling issues such as homophobia, artistic gentrification, the AIDs pandemic, and grief accompanied by the healing power of love. Unfortunately, Larson didn’t get to see his own success, as he passed away from an aortic aneurysm the same day Rent opened on Broadway, at the young age of 35. However, his influence on theater has stretched decades into the future.
Lin Manuel Miranda, a Puerto Rican native, saw Rent at age seventeen, and was so inspired by the beauty of the rock musical that he dedicated his career to Broadway. He would change the game forever with his hit musical Hamilton. After this he would direct a movie for his debut musical In The Heights.
Miranda’s career expanded past Broadway, as he wrote the music for hit Disney films such as Encanto and Moana, which opened the door for more diverse animated movies in the future. His most recent project was an adaptation of Tick Tick Boom, a love letter and homage to the man who encouraged him to pursue his dream.
Past Lin Manuel Miranda, Rent was so radical for its time—tackling topics nobody dared to speak about while also being one of the first rock-ballad musicals—that it was revolutionary in both style and message. It showed other writers that they, too, could discuss new or ‘controversial’ topics in a nontraditional form. Broadway was always about pushing boundaries, talking about things nobody wanted to hear in a palatable and stylized way.
Without Jonathon Larson’s few musicals to open the path, Broadway wouldn’t be as profound and popular as it is now, touching the hearts of everyone and making marginalized people feel seen and heard.