Anatomy of a Scene: tick, tick . . . BOOM!

How Lin-Manuel Miranda's Moondance Diner scene celebrates Jonathan Larson’s influences, and those he influenced.

12 January 20225 min read

“Sunday,” the boisterous, dreamlike number from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, tick . . . BOOM!, is a musical theater triumph. Originally written by composer Jonathan Larson as an homage to “Sunday,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, the song provides the soundtrack to one of the most memorable sequences from the new film, an adaptation of Larson’s semi-autobiographical musical — with Miranda condensing fifty years of Broadway history into one joyous chorus. 

It all begins inside the bustling Moondance Diner on a Sunday morning in the 1990s. Long before Larson (Andrew Garfield) becomes famous for his groundbreaking production RENT, he’s waiting tables with co-worker Carolyn (Mj Rodriguez) during the height of the Sunday brunch rush. The phone rings off the hook, the cash register is broken, and someone’s vomited in the bathroom. Yet the chief concern is the roster of complaining, needy customers, played by generations of theater royalty — André De Shields, Chita Rivera, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Bernadette Peters among them.

As the sequence unfolds, original cast members from RENT can be spotted standing by the Canal Street subway station decked out in 90s grunge attire. Tony Award-winner Bebe Neuwirth poses in a black satin dress like the one she wore to play nightclub chanteuse Velma Kelly in Chicago. Two of Hamilton’s Schulyer sisters, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo, flash a signature move while seated at the pleather stools at the bar. Fun Home lead Beth Malone is glimpsed in the red T-shirt and thin black glasses she dons to play Alison Bechdel, the first lesbian protagonist in a Broadway musical. Even Miranda is in the mix, running the stove in the kitchen, shouting in Spanish. 

To stage the magnificent performance, the filmmaker included costume and choreography nods to the actors’ best-known shows, though he was most jazzed by the idea of bringing together Broadway greats past and present. “It’s exciting to see Mj Rodriguez with Chita Rivera — that is generations of Latino excellence just standing at a table,” Miranda says.

Already a stand-out, the “Sunday” diner sequence has taken on even greater resonance with the recent passing of Sondheim, who died Nov. 26, 2021, at age 91. It’s a poignant reminder of the power of musical theater to connect composer, performer, and audience throughout the decades.

The Location: Moondance Diner

With its cinnamon coffee and soft, green cylindrical stools, the Moondance Diner is itself a character in Larson’s tick, tick . . . BOOM! But the SoHo haunt’s legacy extends beyond Larson’s world and Miranda’s adaptation: Before the Sixth Avenue location closed in 2007, the diner occupied a position of prominence in New York popular culture, appearing in such TV series as

Friends and Sex and the City, 2002’s comic book blockbuster Spider-Man, and a-ha’s “You Are the One” music video. Sondheim’s “Sunday” is set on the banks of the Seine, with post-Impressionist Georges Seurat assembling his most famous tableau. The Moondance Diner proves to be an equally perfect backdrop for tick, tick . . . BOOM!’s showstopper — with Larson eventually ditching his order pad to become a song and dance man, both performer and conductor.

Who’s Who?

Ben Levi Ross, Chuck Cooper, Austin Goodwin, and Howard McGillin stand outside the Moondance diner with their arms stretched the sky.

Ben Levi Ross, Chuck Cooper, Austin Goodwin, and Howard McGillin

Howard McGillin

Broadway debut: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985)
Tony nominations: Anything Goes (1988); The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1986)
Fun Fact: Once held the record for most performances as the title role in The Phantom of the Opera (2,544)

Chuck Cooper

Broadway debut: Amen Corner (1983)
Tony wins: The Life (1997)

Renée Elise Goldsberry, Mj Rodriguez, Phillipa Soo, and Beth Malone stand outside the Moondance Diner in unison.

Renée Elise Goldsberry, Mj Rodriguez, Phillipa Soo, and Beth Malone

Renée Elise Goldsberry

Broadway debut: The Lion King (2002) 
Tony win: Hamilton (2016)
Fun Fact: Final actress to play the role of Mimi Marquez 

Phillipa Soo

Broadway debut: Hamilton (2016); originated role of Eliza Hamilton
Tony nomination: Hamilton (2016)

Beth Malone

Broadway debut: Ring of Fire (2006)
Tony nomination: Fun Home (2015)
Fun Fact: Malone’s character Alison Bechdel was the first lesbian protagonist in a Broadway musical.

Joel Grey and Bernadette Peters wear all black and raise their arms in song.

Joel Grey and Bernadette Peters

Bernadette Peters 

Broadway debut: The Most Happy Fella (1959)
Tony wins: Annie Get Your Gun (1999), Song and Dance (1986), Isabelle Stevenson Award (2012)
Fun Fact: Starred in Sunday in the Park with George; considered Sondheim’s muse

Joel Grey

Broadway debut: Borscht Capades (1951)
Tony nominations: The Normal Heart (2011), The Grand Tour (1979), Goodtime Charley (1975), George M! (1969)
Tony wins: Cabaret (1967); originated Master of Ceremonies role

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phylicia Rashad stand outside the Moondance Diner. Miranda wears dark clothing and protective gear. Rashad wears a colorful sweater and orange turtleneck.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phylicia Rashad

Phylicia Rashad

Broadway debut: Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1972)
Tony wins: A Raisin in the Sun (2004)
Fun Fact: first Black actress to win Tony for Best Actress in a play

Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia stand outside the Canal street subway stop wearing fabulous 90s grunge.

Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia

Daphne Rubin-Vega

Broadway debut: RENT (1996)
Tony nominations: RENT (1996), Anna in the Topics (2004)
Fun Fact: originated role of Mimi Marquez in RENT

Wilson Jermaine Heredia

Broadway debut: RENT (1996)
Tony win: RENT (1996)
Fun Fact: originated role of Angel in RENT

Adam Pascal

Broadway debut: RENT (1996);
Tony nominations: RENT (1996)
Fun Fact: originated role of Roger Davis in RENT

Bebe Neuwirth wears a black satin dress and stands in the middle of the the doorframe.

Bebe Neuwirth

Bebe Neuwirth

Broadway debut: A Chorus Line (1975)
Tony wins: Sweet Charity (1986), Chicago (1997)

André De Shields wears a plaid suit and a hot pink turtle neck and stands outside the Moondance Diner.

André De Shields

André De Shields

Broadway debut: Warp (1973)
Tony nominations: Play On! (1997), The Full Monty (2001)
Tony win: Hadestown (2019)

Brian Stokes Mitchell wears a grey suit and walks around the Moondance Diner with a smug look.

Brian Stokes Mitchell

Brian Stokes Mitchell

Broadway debut: Mail (1988)
Tony nominations: Ragtime (1998), King Hedley II (2001), Man of La Mancha (2003)
Tony wins: Kiss Me, Kate (2000); Isabelle Stevenson Award (2016)

Chita Rivera wears a black suit and wide brimmed hat as she sits in the Moondance Diner.

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera 

Broadway debut: Guys and Dolls (1950)
Tony wins: The Rink (1984), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), Lifetime Achievement Award (2018) 
Fun Fact: Originated roles of Anita and Velma Kelly in West Side Story and Chicago, respectively.