Nine hundred thirty thousand, one hundred eighty minutes… Based in part on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” Rent, the phenomenal production playing at the Nederlander Theatre will close its curtains June 1 of this year. It has made history as the seventh longest-running Broadway show, opening to previews on April 16, 1996. There have been 4,843 performances as of January 6 this year. It made $280 million on Broadway and $330 million in productions elsewhere. It won four Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. It launched the careers of unknowns Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin and Idina Menzel who reprised their roles in the movie of the same name in 2005.
Jonathan Larson was just 35 years old, the composer and librettist of Rent, when he died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm on the night of the final dress rehearsal at the 150-seat New York Theater Workshop in the East Village. Larson wove strains of Puccini’s music into his score. Two months later, Rent moved to Broadway, finding a home at the Nederlander.
From opening night, the musical made a huge impact. It became so popular, an army of young fans called Rentheads mobbed the Nederlander almost nightly, which was decorated with graffiti-painted walls and leopard-print carpets à la Bohemian life in New York’s East Village. Struggling and determined to make it as artists, the story tells how the characters celebrate life and death. A number of controversial issues are dealt with: suicide, homelessness and drug abuse. HIV/AIDS parallels the disease of tuberculosis that claims the life of Mimi in La Boheme.
Rent is directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Marlies Yearby with scenic design by Paul Clay. Billy Aronson collaborated with Larson on two songs. The show was in development for seven years from its initial conception to its first public performance.