There are only a few groundbreaking Broadway musicals that have forever shaped a generation of theatergoers.is the most recent phenomenon. But “Hamilton” might never have become what it is if “rent” hadn’t come first.
“Lin-Manuel Miranda has told me personally and publicly how much ‘Rent’ has changed his life and how much it pushed him to do what he does,” said Anthony Rapp, original cast member. from “Rent,” to CBS News.
“There aren’t many original shows that stand the test of time like ‘Rent’ does, and have resonated generation after generation,” said Idina Menzel, who was also a part of the original cast and continued to star in “Wicked” and as the voice of“And I’m the one who can talk about it.”
When “Rent,” now celebrating its 25th anniversary, debuted in 1996, the fresh sound of his pop / rock-style show tunes transformed people into “Rent Heads,” a term coined for die-hard fans. Credit goes to director Michael Greif and Jonathan Larson, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for the musical.
Sadly, Larson never got to see a single day of transformative success from “Rent,” including his Tony Award or Pulitzer Prize. He died on January 25, 1996, at the age of 35, of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm (suspected to be Marfan syndrome). It was the same day that the very first off-Broadway performance of “Rent” was scheduled at the New York Theater Workshop. But as the saying goes, “the show must go on”. So, as a tribute to Larson, the stunned actors got together to sing that night instead of playing the full show as rehearsed.
“He was convinced he had the chance to change the face of musical theater,” said Rapp, who played struggling filmmaker Mark, of Larson’s legacy. “He wanted to tell stories that would turn the world upside down. He believed in the power and possibility of artists to make a difference.”
And he did. Millions of people around the world have fallen in love with the lyrics and music created by Jonathan Larson. After Broadway, “Rent” became a film and a live television event. The songs of “Rent” have become classics. Most recently, “Seasons of Love” was performed as part ofParty.
“Rent,” loosely based on Puccini’s 1896 opera “La Bohème,” tells the story of a struggling group of artists and bohemians trying to thrive in Manhattan’s East Village amid the Crisis HIV / AIDS. The audience was transfixed and New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley hailed it as “an exhilarating and historic rock opera”. The show quickly moved from a 150-seat theater in the East Village to the 1,232-seat Nederlander Theater on 41st Street in Times Square. “Rent” officially opened on April 29, 1996 on Broadway.
When “Rent” became the most popular ticket in town, the first Urgent Lottery was created so fans could win $ 20 worth of seats. This is what gave Miranda the idea to give away $ 10 # Ham4Ham lottery tickets to “Hamilton” fans when her show was also sold out.
“I feel like a member of the ‘Rent’ audience retroactively watching ‘Hamilton’ – feeling this incredible power and excitement,” Rapp recalls. “This is how people tell me they felt when they first saw ‘Rent’ and it made me even more proud.”
“Proud” is the word Menzel also used to be a part of the story. “It was so complicated because with all the sadness and loss there were so many rewards and positive attention,” she said. “Every day that we had success and adulation was a day we didn’t have to share [Larson]. So it seemed to me unworthy in many ways. “
The cast of “Rent” featured a diverse group of cool faces, including Taye Diggs, Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Jessie L. Martin. Rapp said his colorblind cast “was unusual for his time, that’s for sure. If we had been there in the days of social media, we would have had the same kind of impact on social media as” Hamilton. ” ”
“Jonathan Larson changed my life by believing in me and seeing the talent in me,” Menzel told CBS News. “There isn’t a time when I go on stage that I don’t remember that. I always sing something from the show whenever I’m on a gig so that I can constantly give back and be thankful for where it came from. . “
Prior to “Rent,” Idina Menzel said she was an “aspiring and struggling songwriter, singer, actress trying to secure a recording deal” and made a living singing at Long Island weddings. “I owe it to [Larson] and Michael Greif for hiring me and giving me a job that allowed me to leave that behind. The show was her big break, her first professional role, which earned her a Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Maureen.
In honor of the musical’s 25th anniversary, Menzel and Rapp along with many other cast members come together for a special virtual fundraising gala for the beloved New York Theater Workshop. The Tuesday, March 2 event will feature songs from “Rent” and other performances by Broadway stars including Christopher Jackson (“Hamilton”), Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”), Ali Stroker (“Oklahoma ! “) And Billy Porter (” Pose “). In addition, there will be special appearances of, Annaleigh Ashford (“B Positive”), Brandon Victor Dixon (“Jesus Christ Superstar”) and CBS All Access / Paramount + “Star Trek” Rapp co-star Wilson Cruz.
For Rapp, who had been part of “Rent” since its creation in 1994, every anniversary and every step is “always a terrible reminder [Larson’s] loss. It’s really sad to remember that he couldn’t see what happened. It looks like yesterday in many ways, and it also looks like a very long time ago. “
Rapp believes Larson would have continued to find new stories to tell that would make a difference and “shine a light.” With this in mind, the gala will feature new music from composers The Bengsons, The Lazours, Rona Siddiqui and Joe Iconis. If Larson had lived longer, who knows what other treasures he might have produced. There was a period when he wrote one song a day, according to Rapp.
Later this year, the world will hear more about Jonathan Larson when “Tick, Tick … Boom!”, The autobiographical musical he wrote before “Rent,” premieres on Netflix. The film stars Andrew Garfield as Jon and marks Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut.
“The direct line from ‘Rent’ to ‘Hamilton’, from Jonathan to Lin-Manuel, is as straightforward as it gets. So it makes perfect sense that he is leading this,” said Rapp.
“’Rent’ has autobiographical elements,” Rapp explained, mentioning some of the characters. “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. “
“Tick, Tick … Boom!” may be Larson’s “prolific” life diary at the time, but Rapp firmly says, “Rent” is his masterpiece.
For tickets to “25 Years of Rent: Measured in Love” on Tuesday, March 2 at 8 p.m. ET, visit NYTW.org.
Leigh Scheps is a Broadway contributor for CBS News and senior reporter with Inside Edition Digital.