By Alison Baumgartner
How do you measure the two decades since RENT first hit the stage in 1996? Not in the 525, 600 minutes that make up each year, but in the love that has supported the production over a 12-year Broadway run that was venerated with a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Musical.
RENT, a modern twist on Puccini’s La Bohème, is one of the most ground-breaking musicals of all time. Until the recent Broadway smash Hamilton, RENT boasted the most ethnically diverse cast on Broadway. It also touched on issues that were far outside the realm of most musicals, ranging from poverty, to AIDS and LGBT issues.
Incredibly, this small off-Broadway production launched the careers for musical staples like Idina Menzel (Wicked, Frozen), and Taye Diggs (Hamilton, Chicago). Many of these actors went on to reprise their roles in the movie.
Unfortunately, Jonathan Larson would never see his musical become a huge success. He quit his job at the diner, and on the day of final rehearsal, he passed away from an aortic aneurysm. When his friends cleaned out his apartment, it was a reflection of everything he wrote about. Without heating and little to no property, Larson was living “La Vie Boheme” – French for “The Bohemian Life” and the title one of one of RENT’s best loved songs.
Still, his legacy on Broadway and in the arts remains to this day.
With beautifully penned songs and an inspiring message of joy and hope in the face of fear, it is no wonder that RENT is one of the most important musicals ever written, and the Lincoln Center is elated to be a part of its 20th Anniversary celebration.