“How do you measure a year in the life?” This is question is posed in the song “Seasons of Love” from the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical, Rent. Created in the early 1990s by Jonathan Larson, Rent, inspired loosely by Puccini’s opera La Bohème, told the story of a year in the life of a group of young artists living in the East Village of Lower Manhattan during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. Much of the musical was inspired by Larson’s own life including four of his friends who were HIV positive with three dying from AIDS complications.
Larson first presented Rent as a staged reading at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1993. Three years later, Rent was set to make its Off-Broadway debut. Larson died from an aortic aneurysm on the morning of January 25, 1996, before the first preview. With Larson’s parents and sister coming to New York for the preview, a decision was made for the preview to go on with only friends and family.
Daphne Rubin-Vega, who originated the role of Mimi, said in an article for NPR on that night in January 1996:
“It was decided that we do it with a sit-down reading, no costumes, water on the table, a script in hand, and mics. That the show must go on was imperative.”
Three months after that first preview, Rent moved to Broadway because of its immense popularity and won four Tony Awards that year.
In 2008, Rent closed after its 12-year run with 5,123 performances, making it the 11th longest-running Broadway show. Many from Rent’s original cast would go on to have successful careers including Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, Taye Diggs, and Jesse L. Martin.
The original cast minus Daphne Rubin-Vega and Fredi Walker would reunite to play the roles they originated in the 2005 film adaptation.
In its 25-year history, the biggest legacy of Rent is the impact it has had on not only the cast but also many others including Hamilton creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is making his feature film directorial debut on the Netflix adaptation of another Larson musical, Tick, Tick…Boom!
“The direct line from Rent to Hamilton, from Jonathan to Lin-Manuel, is as direct as can be. So it makes perfect sense that he’s the one helming this,” Rapp said to CBS News. “Rent has autobiographical elements. You can see Jonathan in Mark, you can see Jonathan in Roger and you can see Jonathan in Angel. But Tick, Tick…Boom! is Jonathan.”
Starting March 2 through March 6, fans of Rent can see the original cast plus many others from stage and screen in the anniversary celebration streaming event, 25 Years of RENT: Measured in Love from the New York Theatre Workshop.