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Easter Eggs You Missed In Tick, Tick... Boom!

"Tick, Tick... Boom!" is about a musical within a musical within a movie, and hanging over the entire film is the presence of a musical that, at the time the movie is set, hadn't been written yet. It's less confusing than we make it sound, we promise.

See, when legendary composer Jonathan Larson passed away in 1996, he never got to see the fruits of his labor. His musical "Rent" became a cultural phenomenon and won a Pulitzer Prize. But before "Rent," Larson wrote a dystopian rock musical called "Superbia," and even though it was awarded the Richard Rodgers Development Grant, nobody was willing to give it a full-scale production. So Larson created "Tick, Tick... Boom!," a one-person rock monologue about a playwright who spent eight years of his life working on a musical that never saw the light of day. Needless to say, it was a very autobiographical work. 

After Larson's death, "Tick, Tick... Boom!" was adapted as a three-person Off-Broadway show and then as a movie on Netflix that has critics exploding with praise. The film is Lin-Manuel Miranda's directorial debut and stars Andrew Garfield as Larson; all of its songs were written by the original Jonathan Larson. Miranda's film gives Larson a lot of love. In fact, it pays homage to all of the musical theater. "Tick, Tick... Boom!" contains a smorgasbord of Easter eggs that would give even Pixar and Marvel (the kings of Easter eggs) a run for their money.

There are actually two Sondheims in the movie

"Tick, Tick... Boom!" isn't just a love letter to Jonathan Larson, but also to the late Stephen Sondheim. If you look closely, you'll find the film contains not one Sondheim but two.

Whenever Sondheim's character appears in-person, he is played by Bradley Whitford. Sondheim approved of this casting choice. "I don't know who that is, but he has a name like a Jane Austen character, and I love it," Sondheim said, according to Lin Manuel Miranda (via The New Yorker). In the same interview, Miranda shared Sondheim's email feedback on the film. The legendary Broadway composer thanked Lin for portraying him "gently and royally." But after hearing Whitford's character leave an encouraging voicemail for Larson at the end of the movie, Sondheim added that the voicemail seemed kind of cliche. "I would never say that," he said, so he offered to rephrase the message in his own words.

Lin was more than happy to accept feedback from the legendary composer (whom he and Larson both admired.) "It makes me weep to even think about [it]," Miranda told Entertainment Weekly. Whitford wasn't available to re-record, so the line was recorded by Sondheim himself. Since Bradley Whitford hadn't appeared since the beginning of the movie, Lin figured nobody would notice the difference — and for those that did ... well, "the folks who know will know," said Miranda (via The New Yorker). In the final film, the message is, "It's first-rate work and has a future, and so do you ... Meanwhile, be proud."

The day the movie begins is significant

In the opening scene of "Tick, Tick... Boom!" Jonathan Larson announces, "The date is January 26, 1990," just as Larson's musical "Rent" also begins by announcing an exact date. In fact, it even goes so far as to specify "Eastern Standard Time" — a clever satire of the way stories always seem to open with the date.

The events of "Tick, Tick... Boom!" happen in the week leading up to Larson's 30th birthday. According to Howard Ho, Miranda chose to set the film on this particular day for a reason: it's exactly six years before Larson's musical "Rent" got its first performance. Tragically, Larson died the morning before his musical debuted.

This isn't the only time the movie makes a sly reference to Larson's ticking clock. During the song "Swimming," Larson says, "Can I make it to 40?" which could be referring to the distance markers on the bottom of the swimming pool or to Larson's mortality because he never did make it to the age of 40. This moment only underscores that Larson needed to make the most of his time on earth.

Tick, Tick... Boom brought in some actors from Rent

Lin Manuel Miranda pulled out all the stops trying to plant as many celebrity cameos in the film as possible. In fact, he found seven celebrities just from previous productions of "Rent."

Three of the major characters have been on "Rent" before. For Robin de Jesús (who plays Michael), "Rent" was his first performance on Broadway. He was an understudy for Angel in 2005, and he later went on to play Sonny from "In the Heights." Another character in the film also played Angel, this time from a 2011 Off-Broadway revival of "Rent." Mj Rodriguez plays Larson's waitress friend Carolyn. Also, if Karessa from the workshop looks familiar, it's because the actress Vanessa Hudgens actually appeared in two productions of "Rent" – Fox's "Rent: Live" from 2019 and a Hollywood Bowl performance.

If you're not overwhelmed by all the celebrity cameos in the star-studded diner scene (we'll get to those in a moment, so hold your pants on), you might spot three performers from the original Broadway cast of "Rent." The three homeless characters standing outside the diner near the end of the song are Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia. And finally, there's Renee Elise Goldsberry, who also appears in the diner scene. While Renee is best known for her role in "Hamilton" and her upcoming role in "She-Hulk," she also played Mimi in Broadway's 2008 production of "Rent."

Lin Manuel Miranda cast his friends as extras

See how many of Lin Manuel Miranda's friends and family you can spot in "Tick, Tick... Boom!" For starters, in the diner you'll see Phillipa Soo and Renee Elise Goldsberry, who played two Schuyler Sisters in "Hamilton." The colors of their outfits match the colors of their "Hamilton" costumes, and they even strike a pose that mirrors an iconic "Hamilton" pose. Meanwhile Chris Jackson (best known as Washington from "Hamilton") is sitting in the audience next to Sondheim during the final song (Lin once told Jackson, "Long as I got a job, you got a job.") Miranda also brought in several members of Freestyle Love Supreme, an improv hip-hop stage performance that Lin co-founded. For example, Chris "Shockwave" Sullivan and Andrew "Jelly Donut" Bancroft are disguised as doormen.

The director even managed to sneak in some family members. Lin's father, Luis Miranda Jr., sits behind the desk at Michael's new apartment, while Miranda's wife Vanessa Nadal plays a character named Deborah in a voicemail message. Plus, the director revealed in a tweet that he cast his elementary school music teacher, Barbara Ames, as young Larson's music teacher.

Last but not least, Miranda himself plays a cook at the Moondance Diner. Originally, Lin wasn't going to appear in the film at all. Instead, he wanted to give a cameo to two performers from "Into the Woods," he told Yahoo! News, since he thought it would be fitting to place the Baker and the Baker's Wife in the restaurant kitchen. But they weren't available, so Lin stepped in.

The diner scene is chock-full of celebrity cameos

Lin Manuel Miranda didn't just cast "Rent" alums and his friends in "Tick, Tick... Boom!" — there were even more celebrity cameos. Just watch the song "Sunday" performed in the Moondance Diner. In a bizarre reversal, all the extras in this scene are actually more famous than the leads.

Miranda was inspired after seeing the cameo of Chita Rivera (the original Velma from "Chicago") in the 2002 movie adaptation. So Lin resolved to put "Twenty Chita Riveras" in this scene, he told The American Film Institute. The first on his list was Bernadette Peters from "Sunday in the Park with George," the Sondheim musical that the song "Sunday" alludes to. Miranda also cast an alumni from the same musical: Howard McGillin, who went on to perform in "Phantom of the Opera." Meanwhile, Andre De Shields of "Hadestown" plays a customer named Richard Caplan ("with a C," he insists). Bustle also highlights several more celebs: Beth Malone ("Fun Home"), Judith Light ("A Doll's House"), Chuck Cooper ("This Life"), Phylicia Rashad ("Into the Woods"), Bebe Neuwirth ("A Chorus Line"), and Brian Stokes Mitchell ("Kiss Me, Kate").

The cameo of Joel Gray is especially clever, says Kristen Maldonado on YouTube, because his character in the diner feels like everyone is ignoring him, just like his character from "Chicago" (Amos Hart) feels invisible. To top it all off, Miranda brought in Chita Rivera herself.

Other Broadway stars get cameos throughout the movie

The "Sunday" scene in "Tick, Tick... Boom!" isn't the only one that's chock-full of celebrity cameos. For one, there's Ben Levi Ross in the role of Jonathan Larson's friend Freddy; previously he has been in productions of "Dear Evan Hansen," says Screenrant

Meanwhile, you'll notice that Michael's boyfriend in the final scene is Jelani Alladin, who played Kristoff from the Broadway version of "Frozen." Larson's parents in the film are both played by major Broadway figures: Danny Burstein from "Moulin Rouge" and Judy Kuhn from "Fun Home" (though she is better known as the singing voice of Disney's "Pocahontas"). Also, all the singers in Larson's workshop have been on Broadway before, including Janet Dacal from "In the Heights" and Kate Rockwell from "Bring It On" (both of which are projects Miranda worked on).

And let's not forget Andrew Garfield is no stranger to the theater. According to Playbill, he has performed revivals of the plays "Angels in America" and "Death of a Salesman."

The film is loaded with Rent references

Lin Manuel Miranda couldn't resist throwing in some allusions to "Rent" — none of which were in the original version of "Tick, Tick... Boom!" that Jonathan Larson wrote, because "Rent" was still in its earliest stages of inception.

For starters, Larson's answering machine has exactly the same message as Roger and Mark's answering machine: a garbled voice saying, "Speak!" As well, Larson's nickname for Michael is "Pookie." This is an Easter egg for anyone familiar with "Rent," says Bustle; "Pookie" is the pet name Maureen calls her lovers (yes, "lovers" plural, because Maureen is a bit of a two-timer).

Observant viewers (including YouTuber Kristen Maldonado) will notice that Larson lists the names of three friends he lost to AIDS in the movie (Pam, Gordon, Ali). These characters are a nod to three characters from a support group in "Rent," who in turn are meant to memorialize three friends of the real-life Larson who passed away, says Medium. And then there's a really sneaky reference hidden in the scene on the rooftop. Written on the side of a building is "52-5600," which, as Howard Ho points out, comes from Larson's song "Seasons of Love" and refers to the number of minutes in a year.

When nobody caught the reference to The Cat Scratch Club (Mimi's workplace from "Rent") during the first week after the film's release, Miranda gave viewers a hint on Twitter: you can see the sign for this nightclub right before the song "Play Game."

There are plenty of in-jokes in the focus group scene

Just when you thought "Tick, Tick... Boom!" ran out of celebrities to give cameos to, along comes the focus group scene. According to Buzzfeed, the characters in the focus group are all Broadway stars, including Laura Benanti ("Gypsy"), Micaela Diamond ("The Cher Show"), and Danielle Ferland (another performer from "Sunday in the Park with George.")

You'll notice that Laura Benanti's character wrote the word "Santa Fe" on the whiteboard, in reference to the song by the same title from "Rent." What's funny, though, is that the city "Santa Cruz” appears on the whiteboard, too, except it's spelled "Santa Cruize." You can tell that it was originally spelled "Santa Cruise," because there's a "Z" written on top of the "S." We bet that Larson called out the misspelling and then the lady tried to correct it — yet still spelled it wrong.

Finally, there's a really sneaky reference that's not just a celebrity cameo — it's a play on words, too. One focus group member is Utkarsh Ambudkar (aka UTK) from Freestyle Love Supreme. When brainstorming ideas for the marketing campaign, Utkarsh's character blurts out, "Sunrise." Conveniently, UTK improvised a rap for Freestyle Love Supreme based on the prompt "Sunrise," where he transformed the word into advice from two immigrant parents to their son: "Son, rise." Knowing Lin-Manuel Miranda, this can't be a coincidence.

The aspiring composers in the audience are hardly aspiring

In the flashback where Jonathan Larson recalls getting feedback from Stephen Sondheim, Sondheim isn't the only legend in the room. Every single person in the audience is actually a major Broadway composer or lyricist.

For one, there's Stephen Schwartz, composer of "Wicked" and "Godspell." The latter appears in another Easter egg, in a scene where Larson sells his records but can't bear to part with "Godspell." BuzzFeed also identified Marc Shaiman ("Hairspray"), Tom Kitt ("Next to Normal"), Jeanine Tesori ("Fun Home"), Grace McLean ("Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812"), and Alex Lacamoire (Lin Manuel Miranda's go-to composer who created the score of "Hamilton" and "In the Heights"). Lhe list goes on — Even Bradley Whitford (who isn't meant to be a Broadway cameo) has some Broadway credits.

The movie's end credits even play along with this joke; it credits all of these big-name composers as "aspiring composers and lyricists," says YouTuber Howard Ho.

The posters in Play Game poke fun at Broadway

"Play Game," a song in the style of a 90s music video, is set against the backdrop of Shubert Alley in the Theater District. Observant viewers will be rewarded by a treasure trove of hilarious (and surprisingly accurate) Broadway posters that make a cutting commentary on the 1990 Broadway scene.

Two posters criticize Broadway (or at least the Broadway of Larson's day) for hardly ever taking risks. One is called "Old Songs You Already Like," while another boasts the lengthy title, "A New Play, But It Has the Guy from That Television Show, So You'll Like It." While he's at it, Lin-Manuel Miranda throws a shade at movies that he feels didn't need a Broadway adaptation; there's a sign that says, "A Mediocre Movie, Now a Mediocre Musical." Also displayed on Shubert Alley is a promo for "Gypsy (Again)," which is clearly a reference to the Broadway musical that went through five different revivals. Other posters include "Matt Steinberg's White People Arguing About Marriage" and "British Mega Musical: The Musical." There's even a poster that reads "Relevant: Winner of 15 Tony Awards." Interestingly enough, no Broadway musical has ever won 15 Tony Awards – unless you count "South Pacific", whose 17 Tonys were technically spread out across multiple years and multiple revivals.

Not even Shakespeare is spared. There's an advertisement for "Shakespeare: Does It Even Matter Which One?" which is meant to poke fun at the way Shakespeare is often labeled as "fine culture" by people who don't even understand Shakespeare.

Two songs from the musical were omitted (but still play in the background)

In many ways, Lin-Manuel Miranda's adaptation of "Tick, Tick... Boom" is very faithful to Jonathan Larson's original play. Still, Miranda did take a few liberties in translating it from stage to screen; he cut three songs from the original. But even then, Miranda couldn't part with them completely. He snuck lines from two of these songs into the movie.

One song that didn't make the final cut was "Green Green Dress," a love song between Larson (Raul Esparza in the original 2001 production) and Susan (Amy Spanger in the same production). Lin actually choreographed and filmed the song, before realizing it interrupted the flow of the film. "No story happens during [that scene]," he told Collider. But fans of the song needn't worry. "Green Green Dress" still lives on in the end credits, and it's actually playing on the radio in the background right in the spot where the song would have gone.

Miranda also left out the song "Sugar," which was performed by Larson and Karessa (Amy Spanger) in the 2001 production. The song deliberately misleads viewers into thinking that Larson's "sugar" is a girl he's seeing behind Susan's back, before revealing that he just really, really likes Twinkies. Miranda cut the scene, but he snuck in a small nod to the song. When program director Ira (Jonathan Marc Sherman) asks Larson if he's been working on his musical, Larson admits he wrote a song about sugar instead. He sings a few bars from the song, but Ira is not impressed.

The movie revives a few of Jonathan Larson's unused songs

Not only did Lin-Manuel Miranda find a way to preserve most of the songs from the 2001 musical; he also went to the Library of Congress archives and uncovered some songs of Jonathan Larson's that never saw the light of day, which he showcased in the Netflix film.

At the workshop, Karessa and the other singers perform the song "Sextet," which comes directly from "Superbia," the musical that real-life Larson spent eight years writing. "Play Game" and "Boho Days" also make comebacks in the movie. They both appeared in early drafts of "Tick, Tick... Boom!" when it was meant to be a solo rock monologue by Larson in the early 90's. The songs were cut from the 2001 Off-Broadway production but revived in the movie adaptation, says The Los Angeles Times.

Miranda also discovered Larson's song "Swimming" and realized it would be perfect for the movie. Interestingly enough, the song was filmed in a pool where Larson actually swam, but the director didn't even recognize it was the same pool until he listened to "Swimming." Miranda told The New Yorker, "There are lyrics that only make sense at that particular pool: 'red stripe, green stripe, forty feet, fifty feet.' That's the tiling in that pool."

And then there's "Debtor Club," a song from the earliest versions of the rock monologue. Larson replaced the song with "No More," says the Library of Congress. Still, the movie revives the song in a different form. As Howard Ho points out, an instrumental form of it is playing underneath the focus group scene.

The filmmakers lovingly recreated Jonathan Larson's apartment

When production designer Alex DiGerlando was tasked with recreating the home of the late Jonathan Larson, he took his job very seriously. The filmmakers tried to capture everything, down to Larson's paint-splattered couch. Luckily, they had detailed photo and video references. "[Larson] took a video camera and recorded everything he owned in case there was a serious fire [so] he would have a record of everything he lost," DiGerlando told Variety. In the same interview, he explained how he carefully recreated Larson's sagging bookshelves. The filmmakers used bowed planks of wood that they needed to prop up when they weren't shooting to keep them from breaking. DiGerlando even told Town & Country that the crew made a replica of a street sign that "Larson and his friends stole one night" and hung on his wall.

Twice the movie references the fact that –- and we are not making this up — Larson had a bathtub in his kitchen. In the documentary "No Day But Today: The Story of Rent," Larson's friends recalled, "If you were sitting there eating a bowl of cereal and someone took a shower, you'd have to move over so that the water didn't go into your cereal." The movie even shows a shower curtain that looks remarkably like the one from photos of Larson's apartment.

Also, somewhere on the set of Larson's apartment are some very unique Christmas cards; according to Town & Country, Larson would make potato prints and give them to his friends for Christmas.

Jonathan Larson actually threw down his keys to visitors in real-life

When Michael fawns over his fancy new apartment, he sings, "No more ... throwing down the key because there is no buzzer." It sounds like an exaggeration, but this was a detail Lin-Manuel Miranda plucked straight from Jonathan Larson's life. Larson's fifth-floor apartment wasn't equipped with a buzzer, so that was the only way he could let his friends in without walking down five flights of stairs. "You had to call him from the phone booth across the street, and he threw the keys down," said Larson's agent Jonathan Craver in "No Day But Today."

"Tick, Tick... Boom" wasn't the first musical to depict this situation — Larson himself showed it in "Rent," in a scene where Tom asks Mark to throw down the keys in what must be a regular routine for them.

Later in the movie, viewers will see Susan (Alexandra Shipp) standing in the phone booth (which was actually filmed across the street from Larson's real apartment, according to Town & Country), trying to convince Larson to throw down the keys. If you listen closely, you'll notice Larson is starting to play the opening notes of "One Song Glory" from "Rent" before Susan's call interrupts him. In real life, Larson probably didn't compose "One Song Glory" until after the events of the movie, judging by his interview with American Theatre. But, as Miranda points out, the movie taunts us with the possibility of an alternate universe where Larson actually gets the idea for "Rent" that night — and then it dashes our hopes, of course, because Larson's big moment wouldn't come until years later.