Synopses & Reviews
"How do you document real life, when real life's getting more like fiction each day," Mark, the filmmaker narrator of "Rent," asks at the start of the show's title song. It's one of many frighteningly prophetic lines playwright Jonathan Larson wrote before he died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm at age thirty-five -- and before his show became the biggest theater story in two decades. Larson's death and Rent's subsequent success are such epic tales of tragedy and triumph that it's no wonder they've already taken on mythic stature. "If we had written that scene together, of him dying at that point, I would never have let him put it in," says Eddie Rosenstein, himself a filmmaker, and one of the playwright's best friends. "It was perfect Jonathan: he was always over the top that way. Dramatically, it made sense. The dramatic question of his life was over."
The story of "Rent "has a strange trajectory. For seven years, Larson, a talented playwright, composer and pianist who was eager to remake the American musical and hungry for a career breakthrough, had worked on an update of the opera "La Boheme," relocating Giacomo Puccini's tale of Parisian artists to New York City's East Village. The off-Broadway production of Rent was scheduled to go into previews January 25, 1996, at New York Theatre Workshop. The night before, at the final dress rehearsal, the play received a standing ovation. Larson then went home, put a pot of water on the stove for tea, collapsed and died alone on the floor of his apartment. Two weeks later, "Rent" opened to phenomenal acclaim. Within three months, the show moved to Broadway, its young cast became stars and Larson won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.Rent swept the theater awards that spring, including the Tonys; the cast recording was nominated for a Grammy; and a film is in the works. "Rent" not only invigorated the moribund Broadway musical form; it offered a testament to lives lived on the edges of creation and death -- a testament that struck a chord with thousands.
To those who discover "Rent" by being excited and moved by the performance, or by the CD or even by this book, Jonathan Larson's life is the finite chapter within the show's ongoing story. But for those who knew him, his absence is a painful reminder of a career that should still be evolving, works never seen that must be unfolding in some parallel universe. As Jonathan's friend Ann Egan says, "For us, when "Rent" began, Jonathan ended. For the actors, "Rent "catapulted their careers, and now they're bigger stars than Jonathan ever was in his lifetime." "Rent" is a moving show that has changed the lives of many of its participants and fans. Hopefully this book conveys some of that joyous, transforming spirit. Yet after talking to people who knew Jonathan and witnessing their sadness and anger, it's hard not to think of this story as, ultimately, a tragedy. "As you wander on through life Bud, whatever be goal/Keep your eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole." Jonathan's father, Al Larson, used to tell his children, quoting an old advertising slogan. Talk to Al now and he'll say, shaking his head, ""Rent" and its success to the world can be a consolation for the fact that Jonathan is not here, but as a parent, if I had a choice. I'd dump the whole thing and take Jonathan."
"The opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation," Mark sings in "La Vie Boheme." One ofJonathan's missions while writing was to celebrate art and art-makers. ""Rent "also exalts 'Otherness, ' glorifying artists and counterculture as necessary to a healthy civilization," he wrote in a 1992 statement of concept. The production of his play gathered together a group of people who embodied the creative spirit. "Jonathan spoke eloquently about demons and fears surrounding creativity," says Mark Setlock, who played Angel in the 1994 workshop production of "Rent" and understudies on Broadway. "He speaks volumes to anyone who wants to make it as an artist in this society."
That faith in creative work helped drive the writers of this book.We never met Jonathan Larson. He's the hole in the donut we hadto write around, which is why we interviewed more than seventypeople, trying to capture as many curves as possible. This story of"Rent's "creation is told in a "Rashomon" chorus of voices, as Al Larsonputs it, where every point of view reveals the speaker as well as thesubject. For Jonathan's voice, we're left with a few randomquotes -- and of course, the show's libretto. In it you'll find the bursting-with-love belief in life that characterized Jonathan Larson to those who knew him, and this gift to the rest of us known as "Rent."
In these pages, Rent
offers what most theater books can't: a chance to step behind the curtain and feel the electricity of a stage phenomenon as it unfolds.
Rent has single-handedly reinvigorated Broadway and taken America by storm. Sweeping all major theater awards, including the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for drama, as well as four 1996 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score for a Musical, Rent captures the heart and spirit of a generation, refleting it onstage through the emotion of its stirring words and music, and the energy of its young cast. Now, for the first time, Rent comes to life on the page -- through vivid color photographs, the full libretto, and an utterly compelling behind-the-scenes oral history of the show's creation. Here is the exclusive and absolutely complete companion to Rent, told in the voices of the extraordinary talent behind its success: the actors, the director, the producers, and the librettist and composer himself, Jonathan Larson, whose sudden death, on the eve of the first performance, has made Rent's life-affirming message all the more poignant.
In these pages, Rent offers what most theater books can't: a chance to step behind the curtain and feel the electricity of a stage phenomenon as it unfolds. Rent captures the heart and spirit of a generation, reflecting it onstage through the emotion of its stirring words and music, and the energy of its young cast. Now, for the first time, Rent comes to life on the page - through vivid color photographs, the full libretto, and a behind-the-scenes oral history of the show's creation.
About the Author
Jonathan Larson won the Pulitzer Prize for Rent, as well as Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Lyrics, and Best Musical, three Drama Desk Awards and numerous others. His "overnight success" came after fifteen years of writing, composing, and performing. He wrote the musical Superbia and the rock monologue tick, tick...BOOM! and composed a variety of music for children, including songs for "Sesame Street," audio books, and the video Away We Go! Mr. Larson died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm on January 25, 1996, the night before Rent's first performance. He was thirty-five.