Over time many forms of entertainment have satisfied the lives of the people in our world. One of these types of entertainment is musical theatre. The heart of musical theatre now lies in the heart of New York City, between 42nd Street and 53rd Street. This area is more commonly known as Broadway. This area of New York City surrounds the world known Times Square. The theatres of Broadway house many shows that come and go. Only a few stick around for a long period of time. One show that stayed on Broadway for many years was Rent. According to Robertson, “Rent was the seventh-longest-running show in Broadway history” (Robertson). The history as well as the story of Rent helped the show become the hit it is known as being today.
The story of Rent was developed by Jonathan Larson in the early 1990s. He based many pieces of the show on actual things that occurred throughout his own life. The musical is also loosely based on the opera La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini (Columbus). The characters in Rent all tie back to a character from La Boheme, however, the professions of the characters were altered a little bit to help fit the desired effect needed for Rent. In 1992, Larson took the script and the tape of Rent to the New York Theatre Workshop to try and get the show started. Rent spent four years at the New York Theatre Workshop. In 1996, Rent made its way to be an Off-Broadway production. “On the night of the final dress rehearsal at the New York Theater Workshop, the nonprofit theater in the East Village where the musical began, Jonathan Larson, the 35-year-old composer and librettist, died of an aortic aneurysm” (Robertson). His death was thought to have been caused by Marfan Syndrome. The premiere of the show was cancelled, but Jonathan’s family and friends gathered at the theatre to pay tribute to him while the cast did a read-through/ sing-through of the show. By the time the cast got to the number right before the end of act one, La Vie Boheme, the cast performed the scene as the scene was originally intended to be performed. At the end of the show, someone in the audience yelled “Thank You, Jonathan Larson” (Rent). This quote has stuck with the show since that day, and has been heard by every Rent viewer at the end of the show.
The show started its run on Broadway in 1996 and ended in 2007. The show was housed in the Neaderlander Theatre for its entire Broadway run. The show was moved to the Neaderlander shortly after its Off-Broadway start because the show was selling out every night and Rent needed a much larger theatre to house all the fans that traveled from all over the world to see the show (Robertson). The fans of Rent made the Neaderlander the home of Rent. They wrote little messages all over the walls of the theatre saying how the show had affected their lives and how the messages of the show will continue to affect the ways they experience life (Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway). The musical remained in the Neaderlander Theatre until its closing. In 2004, Rent was transformed from a stage show to a feature film. The movie had all but 2 of the original main cast members. Rosario Dawson played Mimi in the movie and Tracie Thoms played Joanne in the movie. The rest of the cast, who were all originally with the show when it first began, was Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Taye Diggs, and Idina Menzel (Columbus). The movie gave people who were unable to see what the show was about and the messages Rent had to share a chance to experience the magnificence of Rent. In 2009, the show went on a national tour all across the United States as well as Japan. The final shows of the tour were in Sacramento, California. I was fortunate enough to attend the final show of Rent. This show was the final Broadway show of rent to be performed. At the end of the show, Anthony Rapp gave a speech about how the show effected and made an impact in his life. Throughout the life of Rent, Jonathan Larson’s father attempted to attend the opening of the show in every city and country the show played in. Jonathan’s father and Mother attended the final show in Sacramento. During the final show the audience applauded Jonathan’s parents and said “Thank You, Jonathan Larson” on last time (Larson).
The story of Rent touched many people over the time the show has been around because of the story it tells, what the story is about and ultimately because pieces of the story allow each person to find a connection to the story being told. Rent is set in the Lower East Village of New York City, on Christmas Eve of 1989. The musical tell the stories of eight friends who are struggling throughout their lives with AIDS, HIV, and their sexuality. All the eight main characters of the show are tied to each other in some part of their lives. Mark, the film maker, and Roger, the song writer with HIV, live together in a loft; Mark use to date Maureen, the performer; Maureen now dates Joanne, the lawyer; Mark and Roger’s friend Collins, the teacher with HIV, starts to date Angel, the drag queen with HIV; Mark and Roger live above Mimi, the exotic dancer with HIV; and Benny use to be friends with Mark, Roger, Collins, and Maureen, but now he is their enemy. The show starts off with Mark and Roger complaining about not having heat, their power being shut off on Christmas Eve, and how they are going to pay the rent when it is due. Meanwhile, Collins comes to visit Mark and Roger, but gets mugged before he can make it up to their loft. Angel finds Collins all battered and bruised, and helps Collins clean up. Collins returns to the loft on Christmas Day with Angel and then goes to a HIV support group with Angel. At the same time, Mark decides to go help Maureen fix the sound equipment for Maureen’s protest. When Mark arrives, he meets Joanne for the first time. Maureen is protesting the cyber studio that Benny wants to build in the lot where all the homeless people live in that area. In the evening, everyone goes to the lot to see Maureen’s protest. This protest turned into a riot at the end. Since Mark is a filmmaker, he filmed Maureen’s protest as well as the riot. He then submitted the footage to Buzz Line, a news show. After the protest, everyone goes to the Life Café. At this gathering, Roger and Mimi learn the other has HIV like them. In this part of the show, time moves a lot faster. The friends celebrate New Year’s together, and they all become a lot closer. Angel then becomes very ill because of HIV. Tension begins to form between all the couples, and their relationships become strained. Later, Angel dies and all the fiends attend his funeral. After the funeral, Maureen and Joanne make up, Benny and Mimi are together, and Roger decides to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Roger returns later that year and learns that Mimi has returned to drug use and is living on the streets again. Mimi then goes missing and no one is able to find her. On Christmas Eve, Maureen and Joanne find Mimi on the streets and bring her back to Mark and Roger’s loft. She dies in Roger’s arms, but then comes back to life. At this point, all the friends are reunited and see what truly matters in their lives. They sing together, “No Day But Today” (Larson) (Columbus).
The story of Rent displays bits and pieces of love, loss, as well as hope. The pieces of the show help draw people in and ultimately help people find an individual connection to the show and the characters of the show. The story of Rent has been a very influential part of many peoples’ lives. Rent has helped people learn about themselves through the story and the history the musical has to offer. My life changed the day I saw the final show, it took my breath away. Hopefully the show will do the same for others, and continue to do so for many years to come. Ultimately, Rent is a story that has captured the lives of many.