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Rent The Play



Daphne Rubin-Vega played Mimi in Rent. "It was a lot of fun to actually be able to practically apply my research of partying ..." she says. "I knew these people. I knew this world." She's pictured above with Adam Pascal in New York Theatre Workshop's 1996 production of Rent. Joan Marcus hide caption




rent the play



"It really begins and ends with Jonathan's writing as a great composer and a great lyricist," says Tim Weil, who was the show's music director/keyboard player/arranger. "He knew as much about Billy Joel's piano playing as he knew about Sondheim's lyric writing. He was really just extraordinary."


Actor Anthony Rapp was hired to play Mark Cohen, a documentary filmmaker. "I've always felt that Mark was the closest sort of stand-in for Jonathan," he says. "Jonathan himself was a cis-het HIV-negative man who was watching what was happening around him and responding to it and trying to find a way to channel the grief and anger and hopelessness that he was feeling into something positive. And Mark is very much doing that."


"The call came to me in the morning, and it was Jim Nicola," recalls Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who played the drag performer Angel, "and it was surreal." Rubin-Vega says, "We were all in a collective shock. And we were huddled together because the only thing that was real was uncertainty."


Rent, of course, became a once-in-a-generation sensation, with its depiction of youthful, hopeful characters, facing enormous loss. It transferred to Broadway, where it ran for 12 years, had touring productions in the States, played abroad and was filmed, with most of the original cast. But, that moment 25 years ago, still lingers in the minds of all those who were there that evening.


In 1988, playwright Billy Aronson wanted to create "a musical based on Puccini's La Bohème, in which the luscious splendor of Puccini's world would be replaced with the coarseness and noise of modern New York."[5] In 1989, Jonathan Larson, a 29-year-old composer, began collaborating with Aronson on this project, and the two composed together "Santa Fe", "Splatter" (later re-worked into the song "Rent"), and "I Should Tell You". Larson suggested setting the play "amid poverty, homelessness, spunky gay life, drag queens and punk" in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, which happened to be down the street from his Greenwich Village apartment. He also came up with the show's ultimate title (a decision that Aronson was unhappy with, at least until Larson pointed out that "rent" also means torn apart). In 1991, he asked Aronson if he could use Aronson's original concept and make Rent his own. Larson had ambitious expectations for Rent; his ultimate dream was to write a rock opera "to bring musical theater to the MTV generation".[6] Aronson and Larson made an agreement that if the show went to Broadway, Aronson would share in the proceeds and be given credit for "original concept & additional lyrics".[6]


Larson's inspiration for Rent's content came from several different sources. Many of the characters and plot elements had been heavily inspired by Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème, the world premiere of which was in 1896, a century before Rent's premiere.[9] La Bohème was also about the lives of young struggling artists. Tuberculosis was rife Puccini's opera, replaced by HIV/AIDS in Rent, its modern-day counterpart; 1800s Paris is replaced by New York's East Village in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The names and identities of Rent's characters had also been inspired by the names and stories of Puccini's original characters. However, they are not all perfect adaptations of their predecessors. For example, Joanne in Rent represents the character of Alcindoro in Bohème, but is also partially based on Marcello. Joanne was the only character whose predecessor in La Bohème was a different sex.


Other examples of parallels between Larson's and Puccini's work include Larson's song "Light My Candle", which draws melodic content directly from "Che gelida manina";[10] "Quando me'n vo'" ("Musetta's Waltz"), a melody taken directly from Puccini's opera; and "Goodbye Love", a long, painful piece that reflects a confrontation and parting between characters in both Puccini's and Larson's work.[11] "Quando me'n vo'" is paralleled in the first verse of "Take Me or Leave Me", when Maureen describes the way people stare when she walks in the street. It is also directly referred to in the scene where the characters are celebrating their bohemian life. Mark says, "Roger will attempt to write a bittersweet, evocative song..." Roger plays a quick piece, and Mark adds, "...that doesn't remind us of 'Musetta's Waltz'." This part of "Musetta's Waltz" is also later used in "Your Eyes", a song Roger writes.


The earliest concepts of the characters differ largely from the finished products. Everyone except Mark had AIDS, including Maureen and Joanne; Maureen was a serious, angry character who played off Oedipus in her performance piece instead of Hey Diddle Diddle; Mark was, at one point, a painter instead of a filmmaker; Roger was named Ralph and wrote musical plays; Angel was a jazz philosopher, while Collins was a street performer; Angel and Collins were both originally described as Caucasian; and Benny had a somewhat enlarged role in the story, taking part in songs like "Real Estate", which was later cut.[14]


At last, the missing Collins enters the apartment, presenting Angel, who is now in full drag and shares the money she made and the amusing story of how she killed a dog to earn it ("Today 4 U"). Mark comes home, and Benny arrives, speaking of Maureen's upcoming protest against his plans to evict the homeless from a lot where he is hoping to build a cyber arts studio. Benny offers that, if they convince Maureen to cancel the protest, then Mark and Roger can officially remain rent-free tenants. However, the two rebuff Benny's offer and he leaves ("You'll See"). Mark leaves the loft again to go help Maureen with the sound equipment for the protest, unexpectedly meeting Joanne at the stage. Initially hesitant with each other, the two eventually bond over their shared distrust of Maureen's "gaslighting" and promiscuous behavior ("Tango: Maureen"). Mark then joins Collins and Angel to film their HIV support group meeting ("Life Support"), while Mimi attempts to seduce Roger alone in his apartment ("Out Tonight"). Roger is extremely upset by Mimi's intrusion, demanding she leave him alone and resisting any romantic feelings he may harbor for her ("Another Day"). After Mimi leaves, Roger reflects on his fear of dying an undignified death from AIDS, while the Life Support group echoes his thoughts ("Will I").


Some time later, both Mark and Roger simultaneously reach an artistic epiphany, as Roger finds his song in Mimi and Mark finds his film in Angel's memory; Roger decides to return to New York in time for Christmas, while Mark quits his job to devote his efforts to working on his own film ("What You Own"). The characters' parents, concerned and confused about their respective situations, leave several worried messages on their phones ("Voice Mail #5"). On Christmas Eve, exactly one year having passed, Mark prepares to screen his now-completed film to his friends. Roger has written his song, but no one can find Mimi for him to play it to. Benny's wife, discovering Benny's relationship with Mimi, has pulled Benny out of the East Village. The power suddenly blows and Collins enters with handfuls of cash, revealing that he reprogrammed an ATM at a grocery store to provide money to anybody with the code 'ANGEL'. Maureen and Joanne abruptly enter carrying Mimi, who had been homeless and is now weak and close to death. She begins to fade, telling Roger that she loves him ("Finale"). Roger tells her to hold on as he plays her the song he wrote for her, revealing the depth of his feelings for her ("Your Eyes"). Mimi appears to die, but abruptly awakens, claiming to have been heading into a white light before a vision of Angel appeared, telling her to go back and stay with Roger. The remaining friends gather together in a final moment of shared happiness and resolve to enjoy whatever time they have left with each other, affirming that there is "no day but today" ("Finale B").[21]


The film Team America: World Police includes a character who plays a lead role in Lease, a Broadway musical parody of Rent.[29] In 2017, the song "Out Tonight" was covered by the characters Josie and the Pussycats in an episode of the television series Riverdale.[30] Satirist Randy Rainbow parodied "Seasons of Love" as "Seasons of Trump" for his 2021 look back at the Trump administration,[31] and "Tango: Maureen" as "Tango: Vaccine" to highlight purveyors of COVID-19 misinformation.[32]


Rent has also been referenced in other musicals. Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch wears a Rent T-shirt and speaks of his aspiration to play the role of Angel.[33] The off-Broadway musical revue Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back includes parodies of Rent songs such as "Rant" ("Rent"), "Ouch! They're Tight" ("Out Tonight"), "Season of Hype" ("Seasons of Love"), "Too Gay 4 U (Too Het'ro 4 Me)" ("Today 4 U"), "Pretty Voices Singing" ("Christmas Bells") and "This Ain't Boheme" ("La Vie Bohème").[34] Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and writer of the Broadway show Hamilton, has cited Rent as a main source of inspiration.[35] He also referenced the show in a verse of the song "Wrote My Way Out" on The Hamilton Mixtape in the line "Running out of time like I'm Jonathan Larson's rent check".


Rent closed on September 7, 2008, after a 12-year run and 5,123 performances,[44] making it the seventh-longest-running Broadway show at that time, and currently the eleventh-longest-running Broadway show.[45] The production grossed over $280 million.[4] 041b061a72


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