Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2001 (RCA) (3 / 5) This minor but appealing Off-Broadway effort was adapted by playwright David Auburn from a semi-autobiographical, one-person show that had been written and performed by songwriter Jonathan Larson. It also incorporates material from an unproduced Larson project titled Superbia. Arguably, the show’s main weakness is that some audiences may find it a little hard to care very deeply about the angst suffered by an unsuccessful musical theater songwriter as he approaches age 30. But there are many mitigating factors, not the least of which is one’s knowledge that Larson would die unexpectedly a few years later. The show and the cast album also provided an early showcase for the brilliant singing actor Raúl Esparza. Equally effective are Amy Spanger as Jon’s increasingly fed-up lover, Susan, and Jerry Dixon as his best friend, Michael, who has given up bohemia for business and who harbors a heartbreaking secret. Then there are the songs, which confirm Larson’s thrilling talent. They include the touching trio “Johnny Can’t Decide”; the witty “Sunday,” a number about working in a diner that’s also a parody of a certain Stephen Sondheim ballad; and the fervent “Come to Your Senses.” The impassioned finale “Louder Than Words,” with its wounded idealism, is excellent. A moving bonus track features Larson himself singing a cut number, “Boho Days.” — David Barbour
Film Soundtrack, 2020 (Masterworks) (5 / 5) Lin-Manuel Miranda’s film version of tick, tick…BOOM! is a triumph. Steven Levenson’s screenplay deftly expands the three-person stage piece into a large-cast feature film while referencing its solo-show origins. Thus, we see Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield, in a stunning, out-of-left-field performance) onstage at New York Theatre Workshop, providing running commentary and cueing several numbers, backed up by Joshua Henry and Vanessa Hudgens. From the score’s first jittery piano chords, we are in masterful hands. Garfield, his voice reedy and soulful in quiet moments and gutsy where it counts, delivers full-throttle renditions of the panic-stricken “30/90” the ruminative “Why,” and “Louder Than Words,” arguably Larson’s finest number. As Michael, Robin de Jesús provides fine sardonic contrast, kvelling over his posh new apartment in “No More” and confronting his mortality in “Real Life.” As Susan, Alexandra Shipp shares her character’s big number with Hudgens, their voices coming together gorgeously in “Come to Your Senses.” The luxuriously cast Henry buttresses every number with his lustrous vocals. And even without the listener to this album being able to see the uproarious parade of cameos in the film’s “Sunday” sequence — “There’s Chita! There’s Bernadette! There’s Daphne Rubin-Vega!” — the song is a triumph, a wicked bit of self-mockery folded into a loving parody of a signature Stephen Sondheim anthem. The tune stack varies from the stage version in certain respects, beginning with the song order: “Boho Days,” heard as an extra on the 2001 CD, is now integrated into a party scene, while “Green Green Dress” has been moved to the final credits, and the the tender ballad “See Her Smile” has been cut entirely. Bits of Larson’s Superbia heard in the film are not to be found here, but several numbers cut from early versions of tick, tick…BOOM! have been interpolated, including “Play Game” (a rap commentary on Broadway commercialism, delivered by Tariq Trotter of the hip-hop group The Roots) and “Swimming” (in which Larson hits a pool while fretting about his problems). Among the bonus tracks are a pop cover of “Come to Your Senses” by R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan; the disco-tastic “Out of My Dreams,” by dance-music diva Victoria Jackson; and “Only Takes a Few” by the indie folk group The Mountain Goats. (It would be interesting to know the provenance of these numbers, all credited to Larson.) A heartfelt tribute from one young musical theater master to another, the film and the recording are musts. — D.B.