Is ‘Tick, Tick... Boom!’ Based on a True Story? Here’s Everything We Know About the Oscar-Nominated Film

The history of its many forms

Still from 'Tick, Tick... Boom!'

Lin-Manuel Miranda is nearly an EGOT winner at this point, but did you know that he didn't make his debut as a film director until 2021? Yep, the New York City-born songwriter behind Hamilton and In the Heights first took on the role of director when he was approached to bring Tick, Tick... Boom! to the screen.

The origins of Tick, Tick... Boom! are quite fascinating, but is it based on a true story? Well, the movie is an adaptation of a stage musical of the same name, created by Jonathan Larson. And Larson did in fact write the musical by pulling from his own experiences of trying to make it in the entertainment industry. Of course, his breakout show, Rent, would become one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history, but Larson would tragically die before seeing his musical take off.

So, you might be wondering about the entire backstory of Tick, Tick... Boom! and where to stream it now. Here, we present you with everything you need to know about the musical drama.

1. What is Tick, Tick... Boom! About?

Tick, Tick... Boom! follows Jonathan Larson, an aspiring composer and playwright who tells his story of trying to break into the über-competitive world of Broadway.

We flash back to the early ’90s, where Larson tries to get his passion project, Superbia, off the ground. Based on George Orwell’s 1984, Superbia is big, brash and radical, but each time Larson thinks the musical is finally taking off, another roadblock gets in his way.

Not to mention, the composer is dealing with his own relationship issues and anxiety for his friends at the height of the AIDS crisis. Still, Larson's is a story of perseverance, friendship and a love for musical theater.

2. What Is the Backstory of Tick, Tick... Boom! (the Musical)?

Although Tick, Tick... Boom! did not have its Off-Broadway premiere until 2001, Larson had been working on the musical a decade prior.

He was spurred by the difficulties he faced while making Superbia, and he wanted to document that journey with a semi-autobiographical musical. (His dad, Al, confirmed the show's autobiographical nature in an essay he wrote for the liner notes of the original cast recording).

Originally titled 30/90 and then Boho Days, Larson debuted the work at a Second Stage Theater workshop, and he subsequently changed the title to Tick, Tick... Boom!.

Then, the performer presented the show at The Village Gate in 1991, with help from his friend Victoria Leacock, who acted as producer. (FYI: Larson dated Leacock in college, and she loosely inspired the character of Donna, played by Lauren Marcus in the film adaptation.)

While Larson never got to see an official production of Tick, Tick... Boom!, Leacock brought the script to David Auburn, who reworked the show, which was formatted as a monologue, into a three-character show. It premiered at the Jane Street Theater in May 2001.

3. So, Tick, Tick... Boom! Is Based on a True Story?

Yes and no. While Larson created the stage musical with his own experiences in mind, there are fictitious elements, plus, it went through many revisions.

In the Tick, Tick... Boom! film adaptation, the movie recognizes the fact that some of the story’s elements were not inspired by true events.

However, the team behind the movie (Miranda, screenwriter Steven Levenson and producer Jen Tepper) went into deep research on Larson and his work before making the film. “At the Library of Congress archives we looked at Larson’s papers and spent maybe four or five hours making copies of things,” Levenson said to Script mag. “Tick, Tick… Boom! began as this solo piece that Jonathan wrote and performed himself, but there were many different drafts of it over several years. We found every possible draft of Tick, Tick… Boom! and every draft of Superbia, which was challenging because none of them was carefully labeled or dated. There were five drafts of Tick, Tick… Boom!, our task was to find the commonality and differences and find the most vital and fun material. It was an exciting challenge.”

4. How Did Tick, Tick... Boom! Get Adapted into a Film?

Before Miranda took on the film adaptation as director and producer, the Tony Award-winner actually played the lead role of Jon in a 2014 revival of the show at Encores!. Miranda says he was drawn to the show after watching a production of it in 2001.

However, his love for Larson went much further back. As he told Deadline, “It starts with seeing Rent on my 17th birthday with my high-school girlfriend, Meredith Sommerville, who got me tickets for my birthday. Rent was the most contemporary musical I’d ever seen. It was the most diverse musical I’d ever seen. It was the show that made me go from admiring musicals, like the way you might admire a piece of art, to thinking that I could make one. It just felt possible. It felt homemade. It felt like it was concerned with the same things I was concerned with.”

Producer Julie Oh learned about the Hamilton creator's love for the show and its creator, and she sought him out as a director, to which he quickly agreed.

Then, in July 2018, it was announced that Miranda would be making his directorial debut with the show, while Oh was producing and Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen) was adapting the script for the screen.

5. Who Is in the Cast of the 2021 Tick, Tick... Boom! (Film)?

Andrew Garfield was cast in the lead role of Jonathan in November 2019.

Although he knew little of Larson besides the fact that he had written Rent, Garfield told The Hollywood Reporter: “It was like [Miranda] was introducing me to a long-lost brother that I didn’t know I had through Jonathan Larson. The spirit of Jonathan as we know it, because he’s no longer with us.”

Other members of the cast include:

  • Alexandra Shipp as Susan Wilson
  • Robin de Jesús as Michael
  • Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa Johnson
  • Joshua Henry as Roger Bart
  • Jonathan Marc Sherman as Ira Weitzman
  • Michaela Jaé Rodriguez as Carolyn
  • Ben Levi Ross as Freddy
  • Judith Light as Rosa Stevens
  • Bradley Whitford as Stephen Sondheim
  • Lauren Marcus as Donna
  • Richard Kind as Walter Bloom
  • Judy Kuhn as “Nan” (Nanette Larson)
  • Danny Burstein as “Al” (Allan Larson)

6. Did the 2021 Tick, Tick... Boom! Receive Any Major Awards?

After its release in November 2021, Tick, Tick... Boom! received a number of nominations at major award ceremonies.

At the 94th Academy Awards, the musical film was nominated for Best Film Editing (but it lost to Dune), while its lead was nominated for Best Actor (but he lost to Will Smith for King Richard).

However, despite his Oscars loss, Garfield won the prize for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy at the 79th Golden Globe Awards. That same night, the film was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Garfield was praised for his performance, and he also collected statues at the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Hollywood Critics Association Awards and the Satellite Awards.

Not to mention, Miranda was awarded Best Director at the Detroit Film Critics Society Awards and Best First Feature at the Hollywood Critics Association Awards. The American Film Institute also named the drama one of the Top 10 Films of 2021.

7. What Songs from Tick, Tick... Boom! Are the Most Popular?

Recently, a study conducted by the magazine Headphonesty revealed that the Tick, Tick... Boom! film soundtrack was the second-most popular soundtrack for any Netflix original, right behind the Purple Hearts soundtrack. According to the ranking, the album has amassed almost 215 million streams on Spotify, and it has earned over $400,000 USD.

When the Tick, Tick... Boom! soundtrack was released, it peaked at number 13 on the US Billboard 200 chart.

After much fan demand, the song “Sextet Montage” was released as a single for the film, even though it was not included on the original soundtrack. As of this writing, the track has over 2 million listens on Spotify.

Other popular songs from the soundtrack include “30/90” (which, if you recall, was originally the title of the musical), which has over 69 million streams, and “Therapy,” which has racked up over 36 million streams.

8. Where to Watch Tick, Tick... Boom!

While Tick, Tick... Boom! enjoyed a limited theatrical release in November 2021, the musical adaptation was uploaded to Netflix that same month, where it has remained ever since.

You can stream the film here. Unfortunately, if you're not a Netflix subscriber, you cannot watch the movie on any other platform, but it may become available to rent on platforms like Prime Video and Apple TV+ in the future.

Learning about all this backstory is inspiring us to go give the film a rewatch.


Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Joel is the Associate Editor for News & Entertainment and has been reporting on all things pop culture for over 5 years. Before working at PureWow, he served as a Features...