Along with Shaina Taub, the songwriting team of composer Zach Redler and lyricist Sara Cooper are recipients of the 2014 Jonathan Larson Grants. Their first musical together, The Memory Show, began as their thesis project at NYU’s Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program in 2009. The Wing caught up with them shortly after they were announced as recipients to ask them about Rent and fund raising.

What did RENT and/or Jonathan Larson mean to you?

SARA: I grew up listening to Rent. I still know almost every word of the show. It was one of my first musical theatre obsessions. In junior high school, my best friend and I spent an entire summer belting out the score. Unfortunately, mostly in public.

(performance from the Jonathan Larson Grants Event (NYC, 4/2014)

ZACH: I wasn’t really a “musical theatre” kid, so to be completely honest, I really only began to know Jonathan Larson and Rent relatively later in life.  I grew up playing in the pits for school shows, but I really was on an orchestral percussion track. When I starting writing Musical Theater in an elective class my junior year at Tisch I found that all of my influences, Billy Joel, the Beatles and classical composers like Chopin and Poulenc began to mesh together. I loved the idea of using musical themes to help advance the plot of my work. Because I wanted to fuse not only style but classical form into a popular medium, I was pointed towards Sondheim’s works and Jonathan’s RENT to explore what “musical theatre” could be.  I immediately saw Jonathan’s genius.  Rent’s score is relatively harmonically spare but so brilliantly constructed. He literally changed what it meant to write a musical and it’s so inspirational for our generation of writers, or at least for me. I believe the form is constantly evolving and at many times it can feel very difficult and discouraging.  Jonathan Larson, and Rent, proved not only that change can be beautiful, but they stand as a monument to the idea that musical theatre can tell real, gritty and human stories through continually sung text while fusing styles across genres. It is an honor to be associated with his legacy through this award.

You’ve taken to indiegogo to raise $ for the cast recording. How is it going/did it go?

ZACH: Yeah! It’s going well! After the Transport Group run, Michael Croiter of Yellow Sound Label approached us about recording the cast album. We’ve never raised money before and we get kind of shy, but we worked up the courage and here we are! We actually just launched last month. We’re really excited about the prospect of preserving the amazing performances of Leslie Kritzer and Catherine Cox under the fantastic leadership of director Joe Calarco and music director Vadim Feichtner. Wish us luck!