Rent

By Jonathan Larson
Directed by Suann Pollock
Music direction by Stephen Lytle
MainStage, Studio 88 Theatre

October 2–5 & October 8–9
7:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 6
2:00 p.m.

Cast and Crew

Coming soon, following auditions

Rent Background

Rent is about falling in love, finding your voice and living for today. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Rent has become a pop culture phenomenon with songs that rock and a story that resonates with audiences of all ages. Loosely based on Puccini's La Bohême, the show follows a year in the life of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians, struggling to survive and create on New York's Lower East Side. The physical and emotional complications of HIV and AIDS pervade the lives of Roger, Mimi, Tom and Angel. Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, feels like an observer to his own life. His flirtatious ex-girlfriend Maureen makes performance art, while her new partner, Joanne, wonders if their relationship is worth the trouble. Benny has sold out his ideals for a rich wife and is on the outs with his former friends. How these friends negotiate their dreams, loves, and conflicts, provides the narrative to this musical.

Rent opened off-Broadway in 1996 at the Nederlander Theatre on the 100th anniversary of the original opera, La Bohème. Unfortunately, playwright Jonathan Larson died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm the night of the show's final preview and therefore never saw the initial performance of his show. Following it’s highly successful opening, Rent quickly moved to Broadway where it gained critical acclaim, sweeping all the major theatre awards of 1996. The show reinvigorated Broadway and enjoyed a successful run on Broadsay for 12 years with over 5,100 performances.

Central themes of the play:

  • Value of love and life
  • Staying true to yourself
  • Devotion to artistry
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Sexuality
  • Going against “mainstream” culture
  • Similarities between “Rent” and “La Bohème”

Playwright Jonathan Larson

Jonathan Larson was born in White Plains, New York, in Westchester County to a Jewish family. Since he was little he was exposed to the performing arts as music and theater. He played the trumpet and tuba in his high school band, was involved in his school's choir and took formal piano lessons. His early musical influences were rock musicians such as Elton John and Billy Joel, as well as the classic composers of musical theater, especially Stephen Sondheim and the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Larson was also considered a great actor in high school, performing in lead roles in various productions at White Plains High School.

Larson went to Adelphi University in Garden City, Long Island, with a four-year scholarship in acting. In addition to performing in numerous plays and musicals during college, he began composing music, first for small student productions and later the score to a musical entitled "Libro de Buen Amor" (Book of Good Love), written by the department head, Jacques Burdick, who was Larson's mentor. After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, he participated in a summer stock theater program in Augusta, Michigan, as a piano player, the result of which was the earning of an Equity Card for membership in the Actors' Equity Association.

Later Larson moved to a loft with no heat on the fifth floor of a building at the corner of Greenwich Street and Spring Street in Lower Manhattan. For about ten years he worked as a waiter at the Moondance Diner during weekends and worked on composing and writing musicals during the weekdays. At the diner Larson later met Jesse L. Martin, who was his waiting trainee and later would perform the role of Tom Collins in the original cast of Larson's Rent.

One of Jonathan Larson's first musicals was Tick, Tick...BOOM!, where Larson writes about a waiter wanting to be a waiter, but unable to make any success. Some say it was almost an autobiography. During the performances of this musical, he met Stephen Sondheim, who later would help him produce Rent and whose name even is mentioned in the song 'La Vie Bohème' from Rent.

On the night of the final rehearsal, one night before Rent's premiere Jonathan Larson suddenly died of an aneurysm from Marfan Syndrom. It was ten days before his 36th birthday. Jonathan Larson never got to see his masterpiece on Broadway.

Additional resource:

NY Times article published in 2008 by Anthony Tommasini that include excerpts from his interview with Jonathan Larson just before his death:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/06/arts/music/06rent.html?_r=1&

Awards

1996 Tony Awards

  • Best Musical
  • Best Book of a Musical
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical

1996 Obie Awards

  • Outstanding Book, Music, and Lyrics
  • Outstanding Direction
  • Outstanding Ensemble Performance

1996 Drama Desk Award

  • Best Musical
  • Best Music
  • Best Lyrics
  • Best Book
  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Wilson Jermaine Heredia)
  • Best Arrangements

1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

1996 Outer Critics Circle Award

  • Best Off-Broadway Musical

1996 Drama League Award

  • Best Musical

1996 Theatre World Awards

  • Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega

1996 American Theatre Wing

  • Best Costume Design (Angela Wendt)

The Music of Rent

Rent is a rock opera, which means that the story line is told through the music. About half of the songs were in minor key due to the distressing situations the characters are in. However, at the same time, the rest of the songs are in the major key because the characters refuse to give in when faced with poverty and disease. Several of these songs are reprised in the course of the play to emphasize the importance of the themes in them. The play is almost like in opera because there is virtually no actual speaking.

Because singing takes longer than speaking, the lyrics to the songs are very potent and poignant to get across as much as possible. The lyrics to these songs actually show some key parallels not only between Rent and the opera upon which it was based, but also between Rent and Larson’s life. La Bohèmeis the tale of struggling artists in which many of the characters have tuberculosis. In Rent, the characters are also struggling artists, but here they have AIDS or are HIV positive. The nature of the characters and their diseases related to Larson’s life because he also was a struggling artist and many of his friends were HIV positive as well. The story of Rent came from Larson’s life just as much as it did from La Bohème.

RENT-heads

Rent gathered a following of fans who refer to themselves as "RENT-heads." The name originally referred to people who would camp out at the Nederlander Theater for hours in advance for the discounted $20 rush tickets to each show, though it generally refers to anyone who is obsessed with the show. These discounted tickets were for seats in the first two rows of the theater reserved for sale by lottery two hours prior to each show. Other Broadway shows have followed Rent's example and now also offer cheaper tickets in efforts to make Broadway theater accessible to people who would otherwise be unable to afford the ticket prices.

Excerpts cited from:

http://www.imdb.com

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/06/arts/music/06rent.html?_r=1&

http://broadway.wikia.com/wiki/Rent

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_%28musical%29