Music, Lyrics & Book: Jonathan Larson

Before Rent, composer/lyricist/librettist Jonathan Larson had composed another musical called Superbia, a rock monologue tick, tick ... BOOM!, and a variety of songs for children including songs for "Sesame Street." Nothing, however, would compare to the success of his final musical composition.

Based on Puccini's La Bohème, Rent is the story of love and loyalty among starving artists in New York's East Village. In Puccini's version, his Parisian bohemians are afflicted with tuberculosis--the entire opera takes place under the spectre of this ghastly illness. For Larson, the modern equivalent was clearly AIDS, a disease which had struck down several of his closest friends. But Larson refused to let his story be overcome by the hopelessness and despair often associated with the disease. There is a wonderful moment in which Roger, a struggling rock musician, and Mimi, a heroin addict and S&M dancer, are having a lover's quarrel when their beepers go off and each takes out a bottle of pills. It's the signal for an "AZT break," and suddenly they realize that they're both HIV-positive. What's next? You guessed it--a love duet!

Rent opened at the Nederlander Theatre on the 100th anniversary of the original La Bohème. Unfortunately, Jonathan Larson died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm the night of the show's final preview. But his creation would go on to become one of the biggest Broadway success stories of the decade. It would sweep all the major theatre awards of 1996 including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, four Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards, and in the process, it would single-handedly reinvigorate Broadway with a much needed shot in the arm.

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