Introduction

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."