Rent is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. The musical was first seen in a limited three-week workshop production at New York Theatre Workshop in 1994. This same Off-Broadway theatre was also the musical’s initial home following its official January 25, 1996 opening. The show’s creator, Jonathan Larson, died suddenly of an aortic dissection the night before the Off-Broadway premiere. The show won a Pulitzer Prize, an Obie Award,, and the production was a hit. The musical moved to Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996.
On Broadway, Rent gained critical acclaim and won a Tony Award for Best Musical among other awards. The Broadway production closed on September 7, 2008 after a 12-year run of 5,123 performances, the ninth longest-running Broadway show at the time.
On January 24, 1996, after the musical’s final dress rehearsal before its off-Broadway opening, Larson had his first (and only) newspaper interview with music critic Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times, attracted by the coincidence that the show was debuting exactly 100 years after Puccini’s opera. Larson would not live to see Rent’s success; he died from an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm in the early morning of January 25, 1996. The first preview of Rent was canceled and instead, friends and family gathered at the theater where the actors performed a sing-through of Rent in Larson’s memory.
Due to its overwhelming popularity and the need for a larger theater, Rent moved to Broadway’s previously derelict Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street on April 29, 1996. On Broadway, the show achieved critical acclaim and word-of-mouth popularity. The production’s ethnically diverse principal cast originally included Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Rodney Hicks and Fredi Walker.
The production’s controversial topics and innovative pricing, including same day-of-performance $20 tickets, helped to increase the popularity of musical theater amongst the younger generation.Rent gathered a following of fans who refer to themselves as “RENT-heads.” The name originally referred to people who would camp out at the Nederlander Theater for hours in advance for the discounted $20 rush tickets to each show. These discounted tickets were for seats in the first two rows of the theater reserved for sale by lottery two hours prior to each show. Other Broadway shows have followed Rent’s example and now also offer cheaper tickets in efforts to make Broadway theater accessible to people who would otherwise be unable to afford the ticket prices.
The production was nominated for ten Tony Awards in 1996 and won four: Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Heredia).
In 2005 it was adapted into a motion picture featuring most of the original cast members.
Jonathan’s legacy continues with the Jonathan Larson grants which began in 1997 rewarding up-and-coming musical theatre writers who push the envelope of what is new in the genre. Past winners include Steven Lutvak, Chad Beguelin and Matt Sklar, Nathan Tysen and Chris Miller, Amanda Green, Village Theatre for Feeling Electric (now Next to Normal) by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, Joe Iconis, Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dave Malloy, Ryan Scott Oliver, Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond, Shaina Taub, and Sam Willmott.
Michael Greif talks RENT on Working In The Theatre (1996)
Daphne Rubin-Vega ("Rent") 1996
choreographer Marlies Yearby ('Rent") 1996
Seasons of Love, NYC Gay Mens Choir
, New World Stages
2010-11 Joe A. Callaway Award
2011 Clive Barnes Award
2012 Tina Awards
, Nederlander Theatre
1996 Tony Award Best Musical
1996 Tony Award Best Book of a Musical
1996 Tony Award Best Original Score
1996 Tony Award Best Featured Actor in a Musical
1996 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical
1996 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Book
1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
, New York Theatre Workshop
1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
1996 OBIE Awards Special Citation
1996 Outer Critics Circle Awards Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical
1996 Drama Desk Awards Best Musical
1996 Drama League Award Best Musical
1996 Theatre World Awards
1996 Drama Critics' Circle Award Best Musical
1996 Henry Hewes Design Award Costume Design