When the musical Rent first appeared off Broadway in 1996, it immediately became a hit. Tragically, Jonathan Larson could not appreciate the over-whelming success of his play, since he had died on the evening of the final dress rehearsal. His death made the play that much more poignant in its focus on the diseased and drug-addicted young people of New York City's East Village. Still, in its examination of the lifestyles of the young men and women who inhabit the slums of the Village, the play becomes a celebration of life and the heroic struggle to survive. It was published by William Morrow in 1997.
Rent is loosely based on the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini's La bohème, an opera that focuses on the experiences of bohemian artists living in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. Larson places his play in New York City a century later than Puccini's work. It opens on Christmas Eve and chronicles the characters' lives over the course of one year. The fast-paced production moves through a collection of vignettes that are united by a rent strike against the landlord of the run-down tenement where some of the characters live. During the course of the play, the characters protest the landlord's plans to evict them and face other obstacles that are more difficult to fight, including drug addiction, AIDS, and troubled relationships. The characters do not overcome all their problems, but those that they do overcome provide them with a sustaining sense of community and the will to endure.