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Warning: This post contains spoilers for Tick, Tick... Boom!
When Keanu Reeves decides it's time to make John Wick: The Musical, there's only one director he should call: Lin-Manuel Miranda. Midway through Tick, Tick... Boom — the Hamilton mastermind's directorial debut, based on the autobiographical musical by the late Rent creator, Jonathan Larson — there's a sequence that'll make any self-respecting Broadway fan go, "Woah."
While working the Sunday brunch shift at Manhattan's now-closed Moondance Diner, Jon (played by Andrew Garfield) imagines himself at the center of major musical set-piece where he waits on, and sings to, a cavalcade of Broadway legends, from Cabaret's Joel Grey to Hamilton costars Philippa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry.
"It was what I imagine a John Wick sequence feels like," Miranda tells Yahoo Entertainment about the process of putting that cameo-filled scene together. "And it was my only John Wick sequence in the movie! It was incredibly elaborate, but totally worth it, because the reveals that keep happening over the course of it were so exciting. I wish I could teleport to every screening when that moment is playing." (Watch our video interview with Miranda and the film's cast above.)
Fortunately for Miranda, Twitter can double as a teleportation device. Since Tick, Tick premiered on Netflix on Nov. 19, the all-star "Sunday" number has been receiving a standing ovation social media.
I have watched the sunday scene from tick tick boom no less than 25 times and I will not apologize for it
— Claire (@byeclairebear_1) November 21, 2021
Just watched @ticktickboom for the second night in a row (it’s that good). It made me cry again too. It’s amazing that Andrew Garfield learned to sing and play the piano for the film. I loved spotting all the Broadway stars in Sunday.
— Gavin Young (@gavinccyoung) November 21, 2021
— La Luna Press L.L.C.🏳️🌈📚♠️🦄 #blacklivesmatter (@LaLunaPressLLC) November 21, 2021
the 'sunday' scene from #ticktickboom is going to live in my head for a while.
— Rosalia (@roses_scribbles) November 21, 2021
— c l a r e (@clarel0uise) November 21, 2021
It's a happy ending to an intense four-day shoot that Miranda describes as "the most stressful of my life." But beyond delighting Broadway fans, "Sunday" doubles as a way for the director to pay homage to an artist whose too-short life and career inspired his own. (Larson died at age 35 on Jan. 25, 1996, the same day that Rent had its Off-Broadway premiere.)
"I wanted to create a galaxy brain moment for Jonathan Larson," Miranda says of the intentions behind that sequence. "I had the opportunity as a filmmaker to make Jonathan Larson's dream choir. The goal was to make a choir so full of Jonathan's heroes — past present and future — that he can hear it wherever he is, even though he's no longer with us."
As the title of the song suggests, "Sunday" is inspired by one of Larson's favorite shows, Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, which starred Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in its original Broadway run. Peters is among the performers featured in the Tick, Tick sequence and Garfield says that visible delight that crosses his face when he sees her is very, very real. "I think it reads in the moment that we captured on film," the actor recalls. "It's how Jonathan feels about [her], and it's how I feel about [her]. It was very special."
Tick, Tick... Boom! started production in March 2020, but shooting was quickly suspended by the coronavirus pandemic. When the cast and crew reconvened months later in October, strict Covid-19 protocols were in place that further complicated assembling the "dream choir" that Miranda envisioned. "We filmed this during Covid, but pre-vaccine so the layers of quarantine we had to do to keep some of those legends safe — filming them six feet apart from each other — was enormously complex," the director says now.
Fortunately, almost every Broadway legend he called was willing to show up to honor Larson. "I called on the folks in the shows that Jonathan loved, and I called on the folks from my favorite musicals of the modern era and everything in between," says Miranda. The final role call includes Chicago's Bebe Neuwirth; Hadestown's André De Shields; A Raisin in the Sun's Phylicia Rashad; Nine's Chita Rivera; and Ragtime's Brian Stokes Mitchell.
If you think it's amazing to watch those stars parade across your screen, imagine how Garfield felt performing alongside them, especially as someone who had never been in a musical prior to the film. "It was overwhelming for sure," he admits. "Luckily... I had to treat them all like my diner customers, who I'm not huge fans of. That settled my system — otherwise I would have been sobbing on my knees all day, and bowing to everybody! Thankfully I was able to treat them like I was in charge and they were all my underlings. That got me through, because otherwise I would have been a big mess."
Miranda also has a cameo in the "Sunday" number as one of the chefs in the Moondance kitchen, although that role was originally intended for two other musical theater icons: Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason, who originated the roles of the Baker and the Baker's Wife in the original Broadway cast of Sondheim's Into the Woods. "I was not supposed to be in this movie," Miranda insists. "I wanted to get Chip and Joanna, but Covid made that impossible, so I jumped in because I had already done my testing and clearance. I think everyone enjoyed watching me direct in a chef's outfit all day."
But Miranda also hopes that viewers' enjoyment extends beyond the all-star Broadway company he assembled — or the sight of him in chef's clothes. One of Larson's goals with writing Tick, Tick... Boom! was, as Garfield sings in the film's final number, to "wake up a generation" — a generation that included a young Lin-Manuel Miranda, who saw the show in its 2001 Off-Broadway revival.
"I hope this film does for today's artists what it did for me when I was 21 years gold," he says. "Seeing Tick, Tick... Boom! was like, 'Hey bud: Here's what your 20s are going to look like! It's harder than you think, but if you really love it, then you have to do it.'"
"I took lessons from the show," Miranda continues, describing the personal compromises he made while pursuing his Broadway dreams. "I knew I needed to get a job that would cover rent and utilities... so my first job out of college was teaching 7th grade English at my old school." He reached his first crossroads when the administration offered him to make him a full-time employee, complete with a steady salary and health insurance. It was a tempting offer, and one that he almost took, especially as his first musical — In the Heights — was still years away from ever seeing a Broadway stage.
"I could see the Mr. Holland's Opus version of my life," he says of that pivotal moment. "Where I teach students for twenty or thirty years and have a very rewarding time, and never finish In the Heights. I was like, 'No. Please call me anytime you need a substitute teacher! But I have to finish my show. That was my way of paying the rent and continuing to do what I loved to do."
— Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove and edited by Luis Saenz
Tick Tick... Boom! is currently streaming on Netflix