How Tick, Tick...Boom! pulled off that Broadway star-studded diner scene
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Tick, Tick...Boom!
Imagine you walk into a diner on an ordinary Sunday, and there sit Broadway legends like Bernadette Peters, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, Brian Stokes Mitchell, André De Shields, Howard McGillin, Chuck Cooper, Bebe Neuwirth, and Beth Malone. You'd think you'd entered musical theater heaven.
That's precisely what director Lin-Manuel Miranda was going for when assembling the mind-boggling cameos from stage luminaries throughout Tick, Tick...Boom!, but particularly in the "Sunday" sequence, which is Jonathan Larson's riff on Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George.
The number features all of the aforementioned stars, as well as Hamilton alums Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo; Rent original cast members Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia; and many more.
Miranda tells EW his starting point for who to extend asks to were the shows that shaped Jonathan Larson and his music. "You know those posters where Amy Winehouse is eating with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe?" he says. "I wanted it to be like that — musical theater legends unbound by time starting with the folks that are absolutely heroes to Jonathan Larson."
"We're kind of this musical theater, Edward Hopper Nighthawks sequence where everyone gets to be there because it's this dream," adds Miranda. "The dream is so big that even the people he hasn't met yet, Daphne and Adam and Wilson from Rent, are in the number. It's just this galaxy brain ecstasy. The whole thinking was the biggest, most beautiful version of it possible."
Andrew Garfield certainly felt that was accomplished performing as Larson in the number. "Theater is a version of church for me," he tells EW. "Every day was an honoring of musical theater artists and anyone with a dream. It's a universal thing, anyone who feels they have a calling, that they have something to give and express and that they want to offer to the world and be woven into the fabric of life in a meaningful way. Working with all these incredible, legend actors was surreal, and I haven't fully computed it yet."
Any who've enjoyed his work know Miranda never does anything by halves, and "Sunday" was no exception. Just for this one song, he hired orchestrator Michael Starobin, who orchestrated Sunday in the Park With George. That rich Sondheim sound was conceived by Larson in homage to his hero, but its lush rendering on screen is all Starobin.
The number was significantly complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted production for several months. Miranda lost some of the talent; namely, Into the Woods original cast members Joanna Gleason and Chip Zien (he ended up replacing their planned appearance in the diner kitchen with someone readily available — himself).
Miranda also insisted they add an extra layer of protocols to protect the entire cast, particularly some of the older legends. "I'm not getting Joel Grey sick," he quips. "That's not going to be on my conscience."
That means that even though the diner looks like a crowded, bustling scene on-screen, that's all movie magic. "Even though everyone is in that frame, they're all filmed 6 feet apart from each other and tiled in after the fact," he explains. "Depending on the protocol, we had to know who could be there next to each other."
Still, even with that in mind, he tried to arrange the placement of everyone in ways that would resonate across generations. "The seasoned versus younger performers is also exciting," he says. "It's exciting to see Mj Rodriguez standing behind Chita Rivera. That is generations of Latino excellence just standing at a table."
The number has evoked a flurry of gasps of surprise at screenings and premieres. And when it comes to those responses, Miranda had it coming.
"I was at the theater at midnight on Friday when [the movie] Chicago came out, and I remember the screams when Chita Rivera showed up in the prison for just, like, a second," he reflects. "When we were talking about the sequence, I was like, 'I want 20 Chita Riveras in prison in Chicago. That was the goal."
Tick, Tick...Boom! is now on Netflix.
Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021 movie)
The autobiographical musical follows a version of Rent composer Jonathan Larson, who tells the story of his life in New York City, his friends, his romances, and his struggle to become a musical theater writer — all as his impending 30th birthday hangs over his head.