Jonathan Larson Rent
Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Drama; New York Drama Critics Circle and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical; Drama Desk Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Music, and Best Lyrics; Antoinette Perry ("Tony") Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Score of a Musical; Obie Award for Outstanding Book, Music, and Lyrics.
An American dramatist, Larson was born February 4, 1960, and died January 25, 1996.
Winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Rent was hailed by the critics as the breakthrough musical of the 1990s when it premiered at the off-Broadway New York Theater Workshop; within three months it opened on Broadway. Rent also has become something of a theatrical legend: Larson, who worked on the words and lyrics of his play for over seven years, died of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35 on the night of the last dress rehearsal. Consequently, he never saw the phenomenal success of his play. Larson's sudden death "has undoubtedly deepened the emotional power of the musical's central motif, the struggle of doomed young people to find love with time running out," according to Peter Marks. Based loosely on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boheme, Rent tells the stories of a group of struggling artists in New York's East Village who celebrate life despite suffering the effects of drugs, poverty, and AIDS. Among the characters are Roger, an HIV-infected punk rocker desperate to write one great song before he dies; Mimi, a drug-addicted dancer at an S & M club, also HIV-positive; Angel, a drag queen dying of AIDS who loves Tom Collins, a computer science teacher; Maureen, a performance artist in a violent relationship with her lesbian lover, Joanne; Mark, Maureen's ex and would-be filmmaker who narrates the play; and Ben, an eccentric landlord who threatens to evict the artists from their loft. Billed as "the rock opera of our time," and often called "the Hair for the '90s," Rent is admired for its unique blending of show tune traditions and rock music. "[Larson's] gift for direct, compelling, lyrical statement seems to prove that the show tune can once again become both pertinent and popular," remarked John Lahr. While many critics have pinned their hopes on Rent for the survival of music theater, John Gardner responded that "despite its studied hipness and its aspirations to be the voice of the Nineties, Rent … is pretty much the same old showbiz fare." Nonetheless, Rent, as Richard Zoglin put it, "is the most exuberant and original American musical to come along this decade."
SOURCE: "Hello and Goodbye," in New Yorker, Vol. LXXII, No. 1, February 19, 1996, pp. 94-6.
[Below, Lahr examines the theatrical implications of Rent's popularity, hinting at Larson's possible influence on musical theater.]
By some terrible irony, the restaurant next to the Minetta Lane Theater, where a memorial service for the composer-lyricist Jonathan Larson was held last week, is called La Bohème. Puccini's opera was the inspiration for Rent, Larson's rock opera (at the New York Theater Workshop), and the show features, among forty well-sung numbers, three songs that are as passionate, unpretentious, and powerful as anything I've heard in the musical theater for more than a decade. Larson died of an aortic aneurysm on January 25th, a few hours after the dress rehearsal of Rent. He was thirty-five. Larson's name is new to me, but his talent and his big heart are impossible to miss. His songs spill over with feeling and ideas; his work is both juicy and haunting. That's why, after seeing Rent, I ended up at his memorial service. I found out that Larson was a rangy, goofy-looking guy with jug ears and a funny grin; that he grew up in White Plains; that he had the capacity to love and to be loved; that he'd done six downtown musicals with suitably quirky titles like Tick, Tick … Boom!, J. P. Morgan Saves the Nation, and Superbia; that he waited tables at a...
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SOURCE: "Rent Is Brilliant and Messy All at Once," in The New York Times, February 25, 1996, sec. 2, pp. 5, 22.
[In the following review, the critic describes Rent as "a lot of things: brash, brilliant, sweet, canny and messy."]
It's odd to have joined the generations that talk about what "the young" are doing, saying and going through these days, and how that is reflected in art and entertainment. When Hair, the counterculture antiwar musical, opened to the late 60's, I was pleased but a little patronizing as well you always are when you're part of a subculture that suddenly goes mass culture. So I wonder what today's counterculture young think when they see themselves or a facsimile of themselves on stage in Rent, the rock opera of the 90's now playing at New York Theater Workshop.
What do they think of this portrait of avant-garde experiment and rock-bottom desperation on the Lower East Side of New York? Call it the East Village. Call it Alphabet City: it is a montage of performance artists, abandoned buildings, upwardly mobile landlords, firm makers and rock-and-roll bands, homeless people, policemen, drug dealers and drug addicts, free-thinking, free-form multiculturalism, homo-, hetero- and bisexuality, life-support groups and safe sex, privilege side by side with poverty and open-hearted exhilaration in the face of death and H.I.V.
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SOURCE: "A Downtown 'La Bohéme'," in Newsweek, Vol. CXXVII, No. 9, February 26, 1996, p. 67.
[In the review below, Kroll focuses on the characterization in Rent.]
During rehearsals of his musical Rent, composer-writer-lyricist Jonathan Larson was told by his excited producers, "Jonathan, you're the new voice." Larson smiled: "Yeah? That's good." Hours after the dress rehearsal on Jan. 24, Larson, 35, was found dead of an aortic aneurysm in his Greenwich Village apartment. After the show's opening last week at the off-Broadway New York Theater Workshop, the new voice, now stilled, was greeted with the most feverishly enthusiastic reviews for any new American musical in many years. With tragic irony, Larson's death echoed the spirit of La Bohème, the Puccini opera about penniless young artists which was the basis of Rent. Where Puccini's heroine Mimi died, Larson has his Mimi live. Instead he perished.
There is death in Rent—death from AIDS, the modern plague that has supplanted the tuberculosis that killed Puccini's Mimi. But by "resurrecting" Mimi, Larson emphasizes the irrepressible surge of life. The first impact of Rent is the astonishing humane violence of its vital spirit, embodied by the youthful multicultural cast who perform with an ecstasy of commitment that is irresistible. In a way they are playing themselves: Puccini's 19th-century Left...
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SOURCE: "Looking on Broadway for a Bohemian Home," in The New York Times, February 26, 1996, pp. C9, C11.
[In the following review, Marks describes the frenzy surrounding Rent's premiere.]
On the opening night of Rent two weeks ago, the phones in the offices of the New York Theater Workshop began ringing off the hook. They haven't stopped since.
Theater producers, record promoters, film directors, actors, musicians and ordinary theatergoers have been jamming the phone lines in search of tickets to the critically acclaimed rock musical, in a clamor unlike anything the people who run the nonprofit theater on East Fourth Street have ever experienced. Sylvester Stallone showed up early in the run. Whitney Houston's assistants came to check out the score.
The demand was so intense that the 150-seat Off Broadway theater immediately raised the ticket price from $30 to $45 and brought in a small army of volunteers to handle the volume. "The phones were ringing from 8 o'clock in the morning until 10 o'clock at night," said Nancy Kassak Diekmann, the theater's managing director.
Rent, a raucous 1990's version of La Bohème set on the Lower East Side and populated by drug users and performance artists and drag queens, has burst on the theater scene with a breakout force that few shows muster. Until a few weeks ago, hardly anyone had...
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SOURCE: "East Village Story," in The New York Times, March 2, 1996, p. A 19.
[In the following review, Rich describes the theatrical and political significance of Rent.]
In an age when almost every showbiz event is predigested and presold by the media long before the public can decide for itself, the truly spontaneous pop-culture phenomenon is almost extinct. Almost but not quite. Two weeks ago, at a 150-seat theater in the East Village, a rock opera called Rent, written and performed by unknowns, came out of nowhere to earn the most ecstatic raves of any American musical in the two decades since A Chorus Line. And now the world is rushing to catch up: Rent will quickly move to Broadway to accommodate the insatiable demand for tickets, even as Hollywood titans fight to bring it to the screen.
Rent is all the critics say it is. There's a moment that often comes early in thrilling musicals—call it the "Something's Coming" moment, in honor of West Side Story—when a performer steps forward, grabs the spotlight and demands what he wants from life, no matter the obstacles. In Rent, which loosely transposes the story of La Bohème to Manhattan's present-day downtown bohemia, that moment arrives when a young, H.I.V.-positive punk rocker sings of how he lives only for "one song / glory / one song / before I go." Such is the naked yearning of...
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SOURCE: "All in the Family," in New York, March 4, 1996, p. 65.
[Below, Simon gives a mixed review of Rent.]
In September 1914, Puccini got wind of an abridged version of La Bohème to be mounted in Lucca, and promptly wrote his publisher, "I beg you not to give them the opera. You will do me a real favor." How would he have felt about a version called Rent, which updates the Giacosa-Illica libretto, transplants the action to the East Village, and keeps only a few bars of his music, strummed on a guitar—just enough to put the rest of the score to shame? Well, with the copyright lapsed, it would not matter what he felt.
Jonathan Larson, who wrote both words and music, died at 35 of an aortic aneurysm upon returning from the final dress rehearsal a month ago. This is doubly sad when you consider that the gifted young man was groping his way to a unified personal style that this uneven, scattershot show does not yet achieve. For although Rent profits from the Bohème infrastructure, it is also hampered by it, as the author is obliged to think up clever parallels or disheveled variations that invite unfavorable comparison with the original. Still, even this partial success holds a genuine promise cut off from fulfillment.
The poet Rodolfo becomes Roger, the punk rocker; the painter Marcello, Mark Cohen, a filmmaker brandishing his camcorder....
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SOURCE: "Lower East Side Story," in Time, Vol. 147, No. 10, March 4, 1996, p. 71.
[In the following favorable review, Zoglin praises the life-affirming message of Rent.]
Jonathan Larson was looking tired and pale all week, but it might have been just the stress of preparing for the opening of his new musical, Rent. Twice he went to the hospital, complaining of chest pains and a fever; his trouble was diagnosed as food poisoning, and he was given a battery of tests. He managed to drag himself to the last dress rehearsal, but colleagues were concerned: Larson, who rode his bicycle even on the coldest winter days, came in a taxi. "You could see he was trying to conserve his strength," says director Michael Greif. The next morning, when Greif arrived at a production meeting, he got the shocking news. Larson, 35, had been found dead in his apartment—the victim, it was later determined, of an aortic aneurysm.
The death of a promising theatrical talent is always tragic, but Larson's legacy makes his all the more painful. Rent, a rock opera based on Puccini's La Bohème, opened in New York City just three weeks after Larson's death and got an ecstatic reception. Critics hailed it as the breakthrough musical of the '90s. Theatergoers began streaming downtown, to the way-off-Broadway New York Theater Workshop; within a week, the show had sold out its entire run, through the...
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SOURCE: "Rent, New Musical Is Deserved Hit," in Wall Street Journal, Vol. CCXXVII, No. 46, March 6, 1996, p. A 18.
[Below, Lyons distinguishes between "Rent the phenomenon and Rent the show," claiming that the production's "artlessness is a sophisticated achievement."]
There's Rent the phenomenon and Rent the show. The phenomenon: Limousines and taxis snake through East Fourth Street, a strip of tenements and bodegas, toward the New Theater Workshop, where the new musical is the town's toast. It's an updating of Puccini's La Boheme, which, exactly a century ago, celebrated the defiant struggles of Paris bohemians. Composer-lyricist Jonathan Larson (his earlier, misfired satire on Wall Street, J.P. Morgan Saves the Nation, was actually staged on Wall Street) transposed it all to the grungy East Village—a few blocks or so east of the theater. Now, in a plot development right out of its own story, it's to move uptown in late April, but only to a theater on the lower outskirts of that co-opting entity called Broadway. It will forsake its 150-seat home for a 1206-seat space: it will be eligible for uptown awards: commercial temptations will assail it. There's irony, of course, in the quick embrace of rebelliousness by celebrity, but Rent, in truth, begs to be embraced: it's a good boy at heart. The saddest irony of all is that, on the very eve of...
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SOURCE: "Flaws Aside, Rent Lives and Breathes," in The New York Times, March 17, 1996, sec. 2, p. 31.
[In the following review, Holland discusses Rent in terms of its relation to high art.]
Who has musical culture and who doesn't? A letter to the editors of this newspaper recently complained that young people don't. Its author used opera on the radio as a measuring stick. "I … remember walking from one end of the Yale campus to the other on a warm Saturday afternoon without missing a beat of the Metropolitan Opera broadcast through open dormitory windows," the offended correspondent writes. "Thirty years later, the same trip yields loud rock." A strong indictment, but of what?
Possibly the very culture the writer is trying to defend. Not that paying attention to long-deceased Italian composers is a waste of time. Study and appreciation of them and their music have meant a valuable life's work for listeners, musicians and scholars alike. But to hold up the dead and the distant as exclusive standards by which educated end-of-the-20th-century young people are to be judged gives culture and art a slightly provincial tone.
I wonder if those first visitors to La Boheme at the Teatro Regio in Turin a century ago reacted much differently from the audiences currently being wowed by Jonathan Larson's Rent, the rock-and-roll knockoff of Puccini at...
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SOURCE: "Life, Death and Rent," in Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1996, p. 4.
[In the following review, Pacheco recounts the history of Rent as the production prepared for its Broadway premiere.]
It was closing night for the new musical Rent at the New York Theater Workshop, a 150-seat East Village theater where the pop opera, loosely based on Puccini's La Boheme, opened in February. Onstage, friends and creative personnel, including director Michael Greif, mingled with the youthful cast and band in the kind of pizza-and-beer ritual that has been repeated countless times in experimental theater spaces.
But this celebration was distinctly different. For one, television cameras and reporters were present at what had all the giddy earmarks of a bon voyage party. And indeed, this was not just a closing: Rent was on its way into previews for its Broadway opening April 29, and, though no one could have known it at the party, it was also on its way to winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama last week, two more stops in what has been one of the most extraordinary journeys in recent theater history.
But amid the celebration, a palpable ghost was in the room.
"This has been an insane experience—it's like having been struck by a bolt of lightning," said 25-year-old Daphne Rubin-Vega, who plays Mimi Marquez, an S/M dancer at the...
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SOURCE: "The Show Goes On," in Washington Post, April 18, 1996, p. C1.
[In the following review, Span relates the genesis of Rent and its phenomenal growth.]
Opening night looms, and at the Nederlander Theater all is chaos.
An artist with one name (Billy) and two earrings is painting graffiti-ish murals on the mezzanine ceiling to invoke that gritty downtown ambiance. Workers are installing cheetah-spotted carpeting in the lobby. Onstage, 24-year-old Wilson Jermaine Heredia rehearses a dance number that calls for him to hop onto and off a table, no small feat in a Santa jacket, zebra-striped tights, a wig and huge platform heels. The theater reeks of sawdust.
Understandable disorder. The new musical Rent—a rock-and-roll reimagining of the Puccini opera La Boheme, set among the video artists, junkies, musicians and homeless people of the East Village—has careened onto Broadway. It began previews this week, after a series of events so singular and stunning that its cast, crew and producers are still shaking their heads.
On the day they began rehearsals here on 41st Street, after weeks at the off-Broadway theater downtown where the show was born, nurtured and unveiled, director Michael Greif asked cast members to sing "Seasons of Love." Their rendition of an anthem that asks "How do you measure a year in the life?" was both a...
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SOURCE: "The New Bohemians," in New Republic, Vol. 214, No. 17, April 22, 1996, pp. 29-31.
[Below, Brustein questions the popularity of Rent, disparaging Larson's lyrics and the production's use of rock music.]
The American theater chases after a new musical sensation with all the messianic fervor of a religious sect pursuing redemption. And when the composer/librettist dies the day before his show begins previews, we have all the conditions required for cultural myth-making—a martyred redeemer, a new gospel, hordes of passionate young believers and canonization by The New York Times, which devoted virtually all the theater columns of a recent Arts and Leisure section to Rent, the "rock opera for our time."
Jonathan Larson's premature death at the age of 35 from an aortic aneurysm was a misfortune from many points of view. He was a young man on the brink of a strong career who did not live to enjoy the early fruits of his talents, a promising artist who would undoubtedly have gone on to write much more finished works. I hope it will not be construed as cold-hearted when I say that his death was also a sad day for contemporary criticism, being another instance of how it can be hobbled by extra-artistic considerations.
Rent (now playing at the New York Theater Workshop before it moves to Broadway) is an updated version of La Bohème,...
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SOURCE: "Rent Goes Up—to Broadway," in Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1996, p. F1.
[Below, Winer ponders whether Rent would be as popular if Larson had lived, suggesting that "what would have been merely moving in Rent is made almost unbearably bittersweet by the knowledge."]
When Rent, a rock musical version of Puccini's La Boheme opened off-Broadway last February, Jonathan Larson garnered the kind of rave reviews that young, struggling composer-lyricists pray and dream for.
Larson wasn't there to read the reviews—he died of an aortic aneurysm on the night of the final dress rehearsal at the age of 35. His opus depicts the life he knew—the disease- and drug-plagued but joyous Bohemia of New York's East Village, circa 1995. More than one reviewer dubbed the show a watershed event in the history of the American musical and declared Larson the posthumous savior of the form. The press celebrated a fabulous story, more dramatic even than when choreographer Gower Champion died hours before the opening of 42nd Street 16 years before.
A Pulitzer Prize soon followed, and a phenomenon was born, producing extreme curiosity and understandable skepticism among theater-goers who could not get a ticket to the tiny East Village theater where Rent played a sold-out run. Monday night Rent opened on Broadway, at the Nederlander...
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SOURCE: "The World of Rent," in Newsweek, Vol. CXXVII, No. 20, May 13, 1996, pp. 58-9.
[In the essay below, Beals, a former roommate of Larson's, reminisces about the playwright with cast members and friends.]
In December of 1995, Jonathan Larson wrote his good friend Victoria Leacock a touching Christmas card. This was typical of Larson; even when he was entirely consumed with his work, he still made the effort for his friends. He'd been working on Rent, obsessing over it, since 1989. Now it was finally going to open. But for both Leacock and Larson, the season was a difficult one. They'd lost two close friends to AIDS since September. Their lives and deaths had been on his mind; he spoke at their memorial services, and wrote both into the fabric of Rent. So when it came time to compose a Christmas greeting for Leacock, he wrote, "Vic, darling Vicks, '96 will be our year. And no more funerals." She received the card the day after his memorial service.
Larson spent the last weeks of his life over-stressed by the demands of his work, and poor as the characters in his show. Ten days before his death he had to sell some books to buy a ticket to Dead Man Walking. His health was deteriorating. A friend brought him care packages—chicken soup, noodles, Mylanta—to combat the dizziness and stomach problems he was suffering. Final preparations for the show were...
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SOURCE: "A New Rock Opera Celebrates Life after the Death of Its Creator," in Rolling Stone, May 16, 1996, pp. 54-8.
[In the following essay, Wiederhorn examines Rent in terms of Larson's life and death.]
The day before his rock opera, Rent, was scheduled to begin previews at a small off-Broadway theater in New York's East Village, the composer and playwright Jonathan Larson felt like he was coming down with the flu. Tired, pale and feverish, he had also experienced chest pains and had visited two emergency rooms earlier in the week. His symptoms had been diagnosed as food poisoning, but some of his colleagues thought he might be suffering pre-show jitters. After all, Larson had poured seven years of soul-searching work into Rent, an emotionally stirring story about young East Village artists struggling to celebrate life in the shadow of drugs, poverty and AIDS. Within days, the show and its 31 songs incorporating dance pop, salsa, R&B and hard rock would be dissected by a roomful of snobby critics.
Larson needn't have worried. A mere 24 hours after opening night, the box office had sold $38,000 worth of tickets—the entire five-week run. By the end of the week, a month-long extension was sold out as well. The show received gushing reviews and has since been attended by such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, Ivan Boesky, Danny...
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SOURCE: "Smash!," in Vogue, May, 1996, pp. 305, 347.
[In the following review, Guare considers the tragedy of Rent and of Larson's death.]
I'm sitting in the Truck and Warehouse Theater on East Fourth Street in New York City's East Village, a.k.a. Lower East Side, a.k.a. Loisaida. The matinee performance has just ended for the new smash hit Rent, which reviews have ballyhooed as the most important musical since A Chorus Line, I can't help going back 25 years to when I sat in this same theater (now the home of the New York Theater Workshop) in the same cold month, waiting for my play The House of Blue Leaves to open. In 1971, I was in my early thirties and felt that everything depended on my play's reception. Stephen Sondheim's telegram—"Have a wonderful opening tonight. Your entire future depends on it"—made me roar with laughter but also cringe with horror because it was true. I had worked for five years on my play. It had to work.
On January 24, Jonathan Larson, the 35-year-old composer and lyricist of Rent, saw the final dress rehearsal of the show he had worked on for five years. The rehearsal was good. Afterward, Larson congratulated the cast, went home, and, out of the blue, was stricken by an aortic aneurysm that killed him instantly. The musical went on to a rapturous reception—and to Broadway's Nederlander Theater in late April. In fact,...
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SOURCE: "Lowering the Rent," in National Review, Vol. XLVIII, No. 10, June 3, 1996, pp. 56-7.
[In the review below, Gardner dismisses Rent as mostly hype and little substance.]
I have this theory: in any given musical after 1970, there will come a moment in which the protagonist is on stage alone and sings the words, "Who am I?" This may be called the hokey-identity-crisis moment, when the character is torn between his principles and his self-interest, and tempted to take the easy way out, which threatens to damn his soul and shave twenty minutes off the second act.
In Rent, the new great hope of the American musical theater, this does not happen—or at least not quite. The protagonist, Mark, an aspiring video artist who cannot pay his rent and has no electricity or food in his house, is offered a lucrative assignment from some cheesy network news magazine. Will he take the job and end his financial plight, or will he preserve his principles—though we never quite learn what those are—and turn the job down? At this point, Mark, on the verge of accepting, turns to the audience and says, "What am I doing?" Then his roommate, Roger, an equally insolvent rock poet, comes on stage and asks, "Who are you?" Now since he has known Mark for years and is not suffering from any psychotic disorder, despite a healthy drug habit, we assume that this question is meant...
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SOURCE: "Tragedy and Art," in The New Leader, Vol. LXXIX, No. 3, June 3-17, 1996, pp. 22-3.
[In the following review, Kanfer faults Rent on the basis of its form, characters, and the theater building, suggesting that the play is "only a mainstream entertainment disguised as avant garde art."]
Plot A: An earnest polymath—playwright, composer and lyricist—struggles for recognition. He writes a musical and takes it to producer after producer, hoping for a showcase somewhere, anywhere. After many disappointments he finally attracts the attention of a director and a vigorous little theater group. They get him a production at a 150-seat Off-Broadway house. Actors are chosen, rehearsals begin, new lines and songs are added under pressure. During rehearsals the writer complains of chest pain. Emergency room physicians assure him that it's just a case of food poisoning and send him home. Less than 24 hours before the first preview he is struck by a fatal aortic aneurysm. The show becomes a posthumous triumph: Critics and the public are so enthusiastic that new investors clamber aboard and move it to Broadway, where it carries on with even greater audience response.
Plot B: Afflicted with AIDS, a young musician tries to compose one great song before he goes. Around him are other sufferers—of poverty, disease, neglect, prejudice. In a '90s restatement of La...
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SOURCE: "Jonathan Larson," in Interview, Vol. 26, June, 1996, p. 104.
[In the essay below, Ringwald offers reminiscences of Larson and her perspective on Rent.]
Recently, my best friend, Victoria Leacock, woke me from a nap. When I answered the phone, I was still disoriented, halfway between sleep and waking. She asked, "Did you hear about Jonathan?" Her voice was trembling and sounded oddly grave. My first thought was, Oh God no, he died. And then, No, it couldn't be. "He won the Pulitzer," Victoria told me. I felt a huge rush of happiness. But then, of course, our friend Jonathan had died.
I met Jonathan Larson through Victoria, his college sweetheart, longtime champion, and dear friend. Later, he became an extraordinarily dependable friend to me, helping me move into my new apartment, introducing me to the neighborhood hardware store, and appointing himself my handyman. I remember one hilarious afternoon we spent attempting to put together a closet, without instructions, that I had carted back from France. Not an easy task. Somehow, at last, we succeeded, and headed down to the corner bistro to celebrate. I treated him to a beer while he enthusiastically explained the entire opera La Bohème, which I had never seen, and how his upcoming musical, Rent, differed from it. He died just two weeks later.
I can't imagine what he would...
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SOURCE: "Victim Kitsch," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 278, No. 3, September, 1996, pp. 98-100, 102-104, 106.
[Below, Davis argues that Rent is not the solution to Broadway's problems.]
As everyone has surely heard by now, Jonathan Larson's Rent—the seventh musical ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama and the first to do so in advance of its premiere on Broadway—is a rock musical in the tradition of Hair but with even grander pretensions to opera, "sung through" by an energetic young cast that plays East Village versions of the artists and paupers in Puccini's La Bohème. The painter Marcello and the poet Rodolfo have been transformed into Mark, a documentary filmmaker, and his roommate Roger, a rock singer and songwriter and a former junkie. Their friend Tom Collins, a computer whiz fired from MIT and now homeless, is based on Puccini's philosopher, Colline. Musetta, Marcello's former lover, is Maureen, a performance artist who has decided she's a lesbian. The seamstress Mimi, Rodolfo's tubercular inamorata, is still Mimi, but now she's an exotic dancer trying her best to stay off the needle. She's also HIV-positive, as are Collins, Roger, and a Latino street drummer and drag queen named Angel, who corresponds to Puccini's Schaunard.
This Mimi doesn't die—or not exactly. She's brought back from a near-death experience by her self-absorbed Roger, who...
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SOURCE: "Rent Has a Lease on Energy," in The Boston Globe, November 19, 1996, p. D1.
[In the following review, Siegel analyzes Rent's blend of show tunes and rock music.]
There is one characteristic of rock music that it alone possesses. It's the jolt at the beginning of a song, from Chuck Berry's "Reelin' and Rockin'" to Cracker's "Teen Angst" that shoots the audience onto the dance floor, or at least into the middle of the living room playing air guitar. It's as if the electric instruments have created a musical energy field.
Show music has its own form of up-tempo energy, consisting of hummable tunes that get your toes tapping while you're in the theater and that you can't get out of your head for days afterward. The great accomplishment of Jonathan Larson's Rent is that it is successful in melding those two musical idioms. Rock fans find something they can relate to in musical theater and show-music fans find a relevance that had seemingly disappeared.
In the successful road-company version which has now debuted in Boston (but which wasn't ready to open to the press until last night), those virtues were apparent when the audience gave the cast members a standing ovation before it began. The ovation did appear to be somewhat accidental. Some members of the audience stood up for the New York cast who came in just as the show was beginning. The...
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Rosenthal, Elisabeth. "2 Hospitals Fined in Wake of Death of 'Rent' Creator." New York Times (13 December 1996): A1, B6.
Outlines preliminary legal and punitive action taken in the year after Larson's death against the two hospitals that misdiagnosed his fatal heart condition.
Tommasini, Anthony. "The Seven-Year Odyssey that Led to 'Rent'." New York Times (17 March 1996): sec. 2, pp. 7, 37.
Details the creation of Rent.
Galvin, Peter. "How the Show Goes On: An Interview with 'Roger,' 'Mimi,' and 'Mark.'" Interview 20 (June 1996): 105.
Interview with original cast members Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Anthony Rapp.
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