Today, the film tick, tick …Boom!, premieres on Netflix, telling the story of Jonathan Larson, the composer and playwright of the rock musical Rent just as he is on the cusp of fame as he approaches his 30th birthday. This is before the show won three Tony awards and he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Those who know Larson’s story will of course know that all of his accolades were won posthumously and he never got to see the success of Rent. The action of tick, tick …Boom! happens before that and it is staged as its own rock musical, with filming locations all over New York City that recreate the city of the 1990s that Larson inhabited.
tick, tick …Boom!, starring Andrew Garfield as Larson and Vanessa Hudgens as Karessa Johnson, is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature film directorial debut and you will see the same care for recreating an authentic New York City in the sets as was seen in In the Heights, the musical-turned-film written by Miranda. Miranda saw the musical Rent as a 17-year old, which was an event he contends served as a catalyst for his own musical career. tick, tick …Boom! is based on Larson’s own work, a confessional musical monologue, he wrote about his life that was later staged as a three-person off-Broadway show. The movie also stars Bradley Whitford as Stephen Sondheim.
tick, tick …Boom!‘s production designer Alex DiGerlando tells Untapped New York about the period aura that the film intended to evoke as well as about the design of specific filming locations shown in the movie, many of which have disappeared in the intervening years.
tick, tick …Boom! is a fast-paced musical style film, with a star turn from Andrew Garfield. The film addresses the AIDS crisis, the struggle of creators like Larson to make their mark, and the changing New York City of the ’90s. Without further ado, here are the filming locations for tick, tick …Boom!
1. Moondance Diner
One of the main filming locations for tick, tick …Boom! is the Moondance Diner. If you’re looking for it IRL, you may be disappointed to learn that it no longer stands at Grand Street and 6th Avenue. The diner itself was saved and trucked off to La Barge, Wyoming, while a hotel was built on the site (formerly the James Hotel, now the Modernhaus Soho). Larson works at the Moondance Diner while writing his musicals and his co-workers are key characters in tick, tick …Boom!, including one dying of HIV/AIDS. In the opening of the film, you see Garfield as Larson biking through Duarte Square with Moondance Diner in the background. This was filmed in present-day New York City with the diner added through VFX. For a big song and dance number (“Sunday”) and other scenes, a physical set of the diner was built on a soundstage.
The set included the building out of surrounding sidewalks, recreating some of the cobblestone streets in the area that have been since lost and a subway entrance nearby. The front wall of the diner was built with a hinge to open up and become a stage. The interior was recreated using photographs and home videos from Larson and his friends.
2. Jonathan’s Apartment
A significant part of the film’s action also takes place inside Jonathan’s apartment, located at 508 Greenwich Street in Soho, where he writes his musicals (“SUPERBIA,” “tick, tick… BOOM!,” and “RENT”), hosts friends, and stages rehearsals. It would also be where Larson was found dead on January 25, 1996, the morning of what was going to be Rent’s first off-Broadway preview, from a sudden aortic aneurysm. Eagle eye musical folks may note that the apartment in Rent is located in Alphabet City, an agreement Larson made with playwright Billy Aronson with whom he worked on the original concept. DiGerlando says that the apartment is “hallowed ground for the Broadway set.”
The apartment building has remained basically the same since the 1990s so the production designers were able to recreate the apartment on a set, with assistance from photos and home videos from Larson’s family and friends to decorate the interior. Some items on the set actually belonged to Larson and others were created for the set to match.
3. Tony Dapolito Recreation Center
Another key filming location is the pool where Larson goes swimming, a past time he had in real life. In tick, tick …Boom!, the lane markers turn into musical staffs. The Tony Dapolito Recreation Center also features some great Keith Haring murals).
When the production designers were looking for a pool, they came across the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center and later discovered it was the same pool that Larson frequented in real life!
4. Times Square
Recreating Times Square of the pre-Giuliani days is always a challenge since it looks nothing like what it was. A show like The Deuce ended up filming up in Washington Heights and recreating a more gritty streetscape uptown. The movie Joker, though set in the fictional Gotham, opted to shoot in Newark and Jersey City instead.
In tick, tick …Boom! VFX is used to show the vintage storefronts, showing the peep shows, sex shops, and camera shops of the time but also small storefronts in East Harlem on Third Avenue were transformed to look like the Times Square of the past.
5. The Strand Bookstore
Another filming location in tick, tick …Boom! is the stacks of the Strand Bookstore, shown in the opening sequence of the film. Larson and his girlfriend Susan (played by Alexandra Shipp) walk, talk, and sing within the bookshelves. Larson also goes there to sell his records to fund the performance of SUPERBIA.
6. Playwrights Horizons
Larson does a developmental run of SUPERBIA at Playwrights Horizons, an off-Broadway theater on 42nd Street. It is part of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. This is where Larson sees Stephen Sondheim, one of his idols, who offers him positive feedback on his musical and offers a suggestion.
The New York Theater Workshop at 79 E. 4th Street is another filming location where Jonathan performs tick, tick …Boom!.
7. Central Park
When Larson learns that his best friend Michael (played by Robin de Jesús) is HIV positive, he heads into Central Park, passing the gold statue of General Sherman statue along Fifth Avenue. The song Larson performs as a tribute to his friend takes him al over the park, running under Greywacke Arch next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the lyrics he says he runs “past the pond, past the carousel,” into the ballfields, until he jumps the fence into the Delacorte Theater, where Shakespeare in the Park is performed in the summer. A piano sits on the stage, ready for him to play.
8. The NYC Subway
Many scenes are shot with Larson riding the New York City subway, often writing his musicals. In one shot, where the doors close on him, you can spot a Dr. Zizmor advertisement in the subway car. These ads stopped running when Dr. Zizmor retired, but long time New Yorkers will remember them fondly (and possibly a spoof ad from Nick Kroll!). For subway nerds, the cars with the orange seats run on the IND line for the B, D, F, N, Q, R, W trains.
Next, check out the Filming Locations for Passing, a new film on Netflix.