On this day in 1996, Rent opened at the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway. On the final night of dress rehearsal, one day before the show opened, Jonathon Larson, Rent’s composer and librettist, died. He had worked on Rent for seven years. There are just not enough adjectives to describe the gut-wrenching musical performances that played to the Nederlander’s audiences full of Rentheads for the next 12 years.
I care deeply about this musical story. The personal chords it strikes in my life are significant and, sometimes, overwhelming. For those unfamiliar with the story, Rent is a rock opera set in the days of Bohemian Alphabet City in New York City’s East Village. The HIV/AIDS crisis loomed large in those days – social commentaries grew as fast as the AIDS epidemic. Rent’s sparse set at the Nederlander – a few instruments, a table, and some scaffolding – let the audience feel the production fully. And the audiences, and critics, were rapt. Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, unfamiliar names then, gave performances that remain unmatched.
Struggling young artists battling disease, relationships, and poverty is the familiar plot of Puccini’s La Boheme, the opera on which Rent is based. It was one hundred years to the day between the two shows’ openings. Rent, which won numerous Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize, was more phenomenon than Broadway had seen in decades. What a story.
While the movie version, which was released in 2005, is not the play, most of the original cast returned to their roles for it. I highly recommend the movie and its soundtrack, but the Broadway soundtrack just can’t be beat. All are available through the Metro Library Network. The soundtrack’s highlight is – hands down – the choral performance of Seasons of Love, a haunting, recurring song that you will listen to over and over and over. I’ll Cover You, a love song duet, has beautiful harmony, especially when you hear it sung by Jesse L. Martin and Wilson Jermaine Heredia. Check out Rent.