(Eric Grode’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/25; via Pam Green; Photo: Jonathan Larson, left, who wrote the music, lyrics and book of “Rent,” with the play’s director, Michael Greif, in 1996.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)
With a virtual performance marking the Broadway musical’s anniversary, original cast and creative team members talk about losing Jonathan Larson and carrying on his legacy.
What’s 525,600 times 25?
It has been 25 years — or, to use a memorable “Seasons of Love” calculation, 13.14 million minutes — since “Rent” upended Broadway’s sense of what musical theater could be. Jonathan Larson’s rock-infused reboot of “La Bohème” had already generated positive chatter during its Off Broadway rehearsals at New York Theater Workshop. But then came full-throated shouts of disbelief and anguish on Jan. 25, 1996, when, hours after the final dress rehearsal, Larson was found dead in his apartment from an aortic aneurysm. He was 35 years old.
His shocking death came right before the start of previews, when a creative team typically makes changes based on audience reactions. After briefly considering whether to bring in a script doctor, the team decided instead to streamline Larson’s music and lyrics as needed.
The move paid off. Within weeks, “Rent” had achieved a level of hype that would not be rivaled on Broadway until “Hamilton” almost 20 years later: earning rave reviews (The New York Times’s Ben Brantley said it “shimmers with hope for the future of the American musical”); a Pulitzer Prize for Drama; and a frantic transfer to Broadway, where it ran for 12 years and won four Tony Awards.