EXCLUSIVE: In what shapes up as a stage-to-film transfer with iconic Broadway talent, Imagine Entertainment has set Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to make his feature directorial debut on Tick, Tick…Boom! That is based on the autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, the late playwright behind the smash musical Rent. The Tony-winning Dear Evan Hansen book writer Steven Levenson is aboard to write the screen adaptation. Miranda will produce alongside Imagine chairmen Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, along with Imagine’s Julie Oh. Larson’s sister Julie will be executive producer.
Miranda once starred in the off-Broadway production of Tick, Tick…Boom! While he has been enjoying the results of his groundbreaking 11-Tony-winning musical Hamilton and moving his career forward, this is the second project that taps into his formative stages to be set as a major movie musical. Miranda developed his first musical, In the Heights, while at Wesleyan University and saw it open on Broadway in 2008. He set the musical film years ago at The Weinstein Company but was able to extricate it just before all those projects became frozen when TWC went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Fueled by Miranda’s music, script by book writer Quiara Alegría Hudes and a directing commitment from Crazy Rich Asians helmer Jon M. Chu, the movie was won by Warner Bros in a $50 million film deal after a multi-studio bidding battle.
Miranda has five companies performing Hamilton right now, and is reprising the title role — for the first time since Broadway — for three weeks in Puerto Rico to benefit Hurricane Maria relief efforts. He also stars opposite Emily Blunt in Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, opening Christmas Day with Rob Marshall directing.
“Tick, Tick…Boom! first entered my life in college when I was lucky enough to snag a seat at the Jane Street Theater in 2001,” Miranda said. “Jonathan Larson’s captivating storytelling in Rent first taught me that musicals could be contemporary, true to life, and depict your own experiences. But it was Tick, Tick…Boom! that solidified that drive in me to hone my own voice as a playwright. On stage, playing the role of Jon in 2014 was one of my most honored achievements. To now have the opportunity to make my film directorial debut, in collaboration with the Larson Family and this incredible creative team, and to adapt a work I love so deeply, is a humbling privilege. Together, we aim to honor Jonathan’s legacy and continue to position his work to inspire the next generation of storytellers.”
Set in 1990, Tick, Tick…Boom! tells the story of Jon, an aspiring theater composer who is waiting tables in New York City while writing Superbia — which he hopes will be the next great American musical and finally give him his big break. Jon is also feeling pressure from his girlfriend Susan, who is tired of continuing to put her life on hold for Jon’s career aspirations. Meanwhile, his best friend and roommate Michael has given up on his creative aspirations for a high-paying advertising job on Madison Avenue and is about to move out. As Jon approaches his 30th birthday, he is overcome with anxiety – wondering if his dream is worth the cost.
Larson’s breakout was Rent, which won the Tony for Best Musical in 1996, and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama the same year (Miranda won those also for Hamilton 20 years later). Tragically, Larson died the night before the show’s first preview performance. Rent ultimately spent 12 years on Broadway, making it the 11th longest-running show in Broadway history.
For Grazer and Howard, the story fit a common pursuit of theirs, reflecting that struggle for atom-splitting creative moments that create a cultural zeitgeist and launch great creative careers.
“From 8 Mile to Get On Up, I’ve always been personally drawn to stories that depict the perseverance and strength of character to follow one’s dreams,” Grazer said. “Jonathan Larson’s story is deeply moving and inspirational. Having the amazing talents and unique visions of Lin and Steven for the film adaptation is the perfect creative fit that adds to the project’s authenticity.”
Said the Larson Estate: “Our family is honored that Lin-Manuel Miranda will launch his directorial career interpreting Jonathan’s most personal work. Lin-Manuel and Steven both have a deep understanding of the piece, and we are so excited to see their vision realized. We hope that Jonathan’s story will resonate with a whole new generation of artists.”
Levenson similarly signed on because Larson’s work was such a formative influence as he was finding his voice. He wrote the book for Dear Evan Hansen, and his new play, Days of Rage, begins previews in October at Second Stage Theater. Levenson is also adapting Everything Is Coming Up Profits by Steve Young for Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig and Marc Platt at Amblin.
“Seeing Rent for the first time, as a teenager in 1996, was one of the transformative experiences of my life,” Levenson said. “To have the opportunity, 22 years later, to work with Lin and the team at Imagine to adapt Tick, Tick…Boom! and tell Jonathan Larson’s remarkable story is a profound honor.”
Miranda and Levenson are represented by WME. The Larson Estate is represented by Paradigm and The Guzman Law Group.