Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Written by Official RENT Blog contributor Andrew Milne

Roughly 8,469,600 minutes ago, the world changed forever: RENT opened. One Pulitzer, multiple Tony Awards, and hundreds of sold-out shows later, many people still do not know the history of the show that glorifies life in the present. Like the show itself, I’m going to try my best here to “document real life” – the journey of RENT from conception to its Broadway birth on April 29th, 1996, and the life of the man who made it.

Art mirrors life, and Jonathan Larson’s magnum opus is no exception; Larson lived in downtown Manhattan, owned an illegal wood-burning stove, and was surrounded by artists and people with AIDS (the two were seldom mutually exclusive). The people and events of his life color the story and score of the show, down to throwing his keys to the street due to the broken buzzer of his apartment building (the same tiny apartment where Larson held the auditions for the showcase). Small details were not the only aspect of RENT from where Larson’s life peppered the show – “Will I?” and “Life Support” were both based on Friends In Deed meetings (an organization dealing with emotions relating to illness and dying) that Larson attended. His bohemian lifestyle generally provided the backdrop for RENT; Mark is based on Larson’s friend Eddie Rosenstein, and some characters were based on Friends In Deed acquaintances.

As Maria explains in The Sound of Music, (now I’m getting my musicals crossed) nothing comes of nothing, and RENT is no exception: it is heavily based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme. The gilded salons and elegance of 19th century Paris are replaced with the grit and dirt of pre-millennium New York, but the stories are markedly similar – a group of artists seize life, choosing art over riches. Mimi the seamstress becomes Mimi the exotic dancer, Marcello the painter morphs into Mark the filmmaker, and tuberculosis becomes AIDS, but the overall themes are the same: life is for living, and loving.

Jonathan Larson died the day before RENT had its off-Broadway debut. Yet, like his masterpiece, the important thing is not that he died, but how he lived. He made something great, beautiful, and real. He inspired countless people with his story of not living in the past, not fretting over the future, but enjoying the present. He lived like a bohemian. He lived. So close to the sixteen year anniversary of his achievement, it’s important that we not just remember that he died like one of his characters, but celebrate that he lived like one: he lived – and loved – through his art.


Do you have friends that inspire you the way Jonathan's inspired him? Do you have your very own Mark, Roger, Maureen, Mimi, Joanne or Angel in your life? Tell us about them in the comments below or on RENT's Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more about the current Off-Broadway production of RENT at

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