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History of Musical Theater

Dr. Tim Baxter-Ferguson

Reader Log Outline


Musical Title: Rent

Music: Jonathan Larson

Lyrics: Jonathan Larson

Book: Jonathan Larson

Performance History:

Rent opened on Broadway on April 29,1996. The show starred Taye Diggs, Wilson

Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Daphne Rubin-

Vega, and Fredi Walker. This production won ten Tony Awarda and was popular among young

people for its controversial topics and innovative seat pricing.

The musical is loosely based on Puccinis opera La Boheme. Larson began working on

the project when playwright Billy Aronson approached him for the project. The partnership of

the two eventually faded away, but Larson had big ambitions for the project. He continued

working with Aronsons initial concept and expanded on it.

While the show hasnt been revived again on Broadway, the show toured in North

America. It was also revived off Broadway in 2011. A school version of the show even exists


Critical Reception:

The show received very excited reviews, and many aspects of the show were praised. Ben

Brantley of the New York Times called it "exhilarating, landmark rock opera" and that it had a

"glittering, inventive score.The fact that it spoke so well to a younger audience was also

praised. The New York Times also wrote that it was "a rock opera for our time, a Hair for the


Memorable Quotes:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure, measure a year?

This song is very memorable to me. It is a song that I already really knew from the musical,

because it's just that iconic. I feel like this song can speak to any number of people. Its universal

message shines.

The story begins in New Yorks East Village. It takes place between two Christmas

seasons. Roger, a struggling musician, and his roommate, Mark, a struggling filmmaker, are

trying to avoid their former friend-turned-landlord, Benny. Benny demands the Rent, and Roger

and Mark vow to not pay the rent. Maureen, Marks ex-lover, shows up and asks for his help

with a rehearsal. Roger, who is HIV positive, begins working on a song. He wants to right one

song tat will give his life some meaning before he dies. Mimi, who is a stranger to Roger, shows

up at his door. She is also HIV positive, and the two are instantly attracted to each other,

Meanwhile, Collins has been mugged, and meets Angel, who is trans (?) and a street

musician. They are also instantly attracted to each other, and HIV positive.

Mark meets Joanne, Maureens new lover. Maureen is protesting Benny, who plans to

evict the homeless.

A whole lot of stuff happens but here are the highlights: Joanne leaves Maureen. Mimi

and Roger end up together. Benny locks Roger and Mark out of their apartment, but they break

back in. Mimi and Roger break up and separate for a number of reasons. Angel suddenly dies.

There is a lot of angst and emotions at this point. Mark considers taking a job at a tabloid

television show, and Roger finishes his song.

Maureen and Joanne arrive with Mimi, who is dying. She dies, and Roger plays his song

for her, but surprise! She isnt really dead.Mimi says that she saw Angel when she died, and he

told her to go back, for some reason.

The only way to measure one's life is by love: This seems like the most obvious theme in Rent, as

it is explicitly stated in Seasons of Love, but it rings true. In Seasons of Love the characters

all ponder how one's life should be measures. Because much of the cast is HIV-Positive, they all

live with death a thought in their minds. This is a burden that no young person should really have

to deal with, but they have to. Because death is always on their minds, they wonder how they

could measure their lifes success, and it really is through love and the connections one makes.

Being different is okay:This cast is very diverse, and that is celebrated. Angel, who is, arguably,

the most different of the group, is kind of the wisest. She/he is the most giving and fulfilled of

the cast. Besides that, the characters sexualities, while not being amazing representations of any

of them, are not looked on as being reprehensible. Diversity is celebrated.


Rent, by all means, doesnt seem like it would have worked, but it really resonated in the

90s. THe show definitely appealed to the younger generation of the 90s, which was previously

kind of an untapped market on Broadway. Rent was kind of the Hair o the 90s. It resonated with

a younger generation. The show appealed to young Americans who were eager to see a more

compassionate America than the America associated with the Reagan administration. THe show

dealt with a lot of issues dealing with sexuality, class and race.

Larson really had a story that he wanted to tell, and he was very passionate about it. I

think that it was is passion that made the show really work. The show is so earnest in everything

it does.

Because Larson tragically died the night before the off-Broadway opening, the show kind

of became one that everyone wanted to see, and it was quickly moved to Broadway where it
remained for quite some time. Certainly Larsons death made Rent a show that people wanted to

see, but I believe if the show wasnt genuinely amazing then it would have still died.

Sure, rock doesnt work on stage a lot, unless the rock music is watered down, which it is

in Rent, but the rock score still reached a younger audience.

Reader Response:

I really like Rent. I had never been exposed to Rent really as a child, so this was my first

time actually watching and reading the show. I had heard Seasons of Love, of course, but besides

that I was flying blind. I didnt know the score was sung-through, which I always like.

The score is great. While its watered down rock, it has a voice. When you hear a song

from Rent, you know its from Rent. One Song Glory is a bop, and I always love hearing Zakk

sing it. I really like musicals with rock scores anyway, so that was an extra plus.

I love how earnest the show is. The show really does try and make you feel something

and think about something, and while it feels very 90s, it really succeeds. Maybe depressed is

the emotion one feels after leaving this musical, but it does make you feel. Larson had a story he

wanted to tell, and he felt passionate about

Comparing Rent to Black Crook really makes me appreciate how far musicals have

come. The show is character-driven, and not spectacle-driven.

And the very fact that Jonathan Larson started work on Rent with a partner, and that

partnership fizzled out, but he felt passionate enough about the story he was telling to keep

working on the musical, astounds me. He really pretty much created all aspects of this musical.
While the plot is loosely borrowed from a Puccini opera, this doeant bother me.

Musicals that are based on movies, and steal the plots of movies dont bother me, so why would

this? Larson adapted the opera into something new in order to reach a new audience and tell a

new story..

In conclusion, I really loved Rent. I love the score and the passion behind it.