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HOW’S IT GOING BROADWAY FANS?! The celebration of Live Theater’s return continues. We are only 10 DAYS till Broadway’s biggest Night of the year – The 74th Annual Tony Awards. This is the moment we are about to reach our TOP 10 portion of our TOP 50 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN. We have an incredible lineup of legendary performances from previous telecasts in this lineup.
At # 10 on our countdown, we take you downtown to New York City’s bohemian lifestyle in the Alphabet City part of the East Village filled with struggling artists, drag queens, drug dealers, and people dying from serious diseases including HIV/AIDS in the late 80’s. This is Rent. An updated version of Puccini’s opera La Boheme, the show features a score and book by the late Jonathan Larson along with Billy Aronson.
From the 1996 telecast, here is the original Broadway cast performing a medley of 2 of the show’s anthems SEASONS OF LOVE & LA VIE BOHEME.
RENT was first conceived in the 80’s when a young aspiring composer by the name of Jonathan Larson met up with writer Billy Aronson who wanted to create an updated version of Puccini’s opera LA BOHEME set in present day New York City. Originally the story was set in SoHo but Larson knew that the show should be set in the area he was living at the time… New York’s East Village in the gritty area at the time of Bohemian Alphabet City. They began working on the project with Jonathan helping him out doing most of the work. From there, Larson and Aronson made a deal that if the show becomes a massive hit, Aronson would also share some of the credit. From there, Jonathan went to work on the show for many years while still working as a waiter at the Moondance Diner in SoHO. Larson was inspired by what was happening including his friends dying from serious conditions including AIDS which no one knew about at the time. He recorded many hours of cassette tapes and sent them out to numerous Theaters. Some approved and several rejected it. However his life changed when he came across a new Off Broadway house that just moved into the village at the time…. the New York Theatre Workshop. He got more information about the place before sending his demos to Jim Nicola (the artistic director) who replied really fast and accepted the piece. Nicola decided to give this new original rock musical a try. It went through many years of readings, workshops, and revamping before officially planning to launch a full scale production in 1996. Under the direction of Michael Grief, the team went to work on making the show a reality on stage.
Unfortunately for RENT’s road to the stage was very bittersweet and Jonathan Larson never lived to see RENT in it’s worldwide success. In the wee hours of the show’s first public preview performance at the New York Theatre Workshop, he unexpectedly died of an aortic aneurysm. Due to the emotional loss of their friend, the cast and creative team came together and decided to cancel the first preview to the public and instead invited all of Jonathan’s friends and family for a special memorial edition of the show. At the end of the show, there was a moment of silence and what broke it was a person in the audience cried out THANK YOU JONATHAN LARSON before erupting into a standing ovation.
RENT originally premiered downtown in a sold out run at the New York Theatre Workshop the next day before transferring to Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre playing a total of 5,124 performances. Under the direction of Michael Grief, the original cast featured…
Tony nominee Adam Pascal as “Roger”,
Anthony Rapp as “Mark”,
Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega as “Mimi”,
Taye Diggs as “Benny”,
Jesse L Martin as “Tom Collins,
Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia as “Angel”,
Freddi Walker Browne as “Joanne”,
Tony winner Idina Menzel as “Maureen”.
The show went on to win 4 Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score (for Jonathan Larson received by his sister Julie Larson). It also became one of the few musicals ever to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The show also brought more younger Theatergoers into the world of Theater. It also went on to play on 6 continents and translated into every major language.
Rent was later revamped as an Off Broadway revival in 2011 playing New World Stages for only 482 performances. The original revival cast featured…
Matt Shingledecker as “Roger”,
Adam Chanler-Berat as “Mark”,
Arianda Fernandez as “Mimi”,
Ephraim M. Sykes as “Benny”,
Nicholas Christopher as “Tom Collins”,
MJ Rodriguez as “Angel”,
Corbin Reid as “Joanne”,
Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford as “Maureen”.
Along with its success on stage, RENT became a massive hit on screen 3 times. The original film was released in 2005 featuring members of the original Broadway cast and new newbies consisting of…
Tony nominee Adam Pascal as “Roger”,
Anthony Rapp as “Mark”,
Rosario Dawson as “Mimi”,
Taye Diggs as “Benny”,
Jesse L Martin as “Tom Collins,
Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia as “Angel”,
Tracie Thoms as “Joanne”,
and Tony winner Idina Menzel as “Maureen”.
In 2008, the original production was filmed during his historical final Broadway performances. It was released for a limited engagement and later released on DVD. The filmed performance consisted of…
Will Chase as “Roger”,
Adam Kantor as “Mark”,
Tony winner Renée Elise Goldsberry as “Mimi”,
Original Ensemble member Rodney Hicks as “Benny”,
Michael McElroy as “Tom Collins,
Justin Johnston as “Angel”,
Tracie Thoms reprising her role from the film as “Joanne”,
Eden Espinosa as “Maureen”.
Most recently in 2019, a new generation got to experience RENT like never before as a live televised musical event for FOX. The cast featured…
Brennin Hunt as “Roger”,
Jordan Fisher as “Mark”,
Tinashe as “Mimi”,
Mario as “Benny”,
Brandon Victor Dixon as “Tom Collins”,
Valentina as “Angel”,
Kiersey Clemons as “Joanne”,
Vanessa Hudgens as “Maureen”.
FUN FACT: 90% of FOX’s RENT LIVE was actually pre-tapped. During the dress rehearsal, Brennin Hunt injured his foot during the end of WHAT YOU OWN. Despite his injury, the show still went on. However luckily the crew were prepared and used the archival dress rehearsal footage for most of the airing. During the actually technically live, the cast performed the 90% as a concert with Hunt in a wheelchair. The only parts where the show went live on the air was the entire final scene of the show and the encore of SEASONS OF LOVE (featuring the live TV production cast performing alongside the original Broadway cast). However, it received so much criticism from viewers and critics saying they should have used an understudy.
In addition, RENT opened the door for many of Broadway’s current acclaimed Tony Award winning and nominated writers including…
Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal and If/Then).
Today, RENT is still performed on tour across America, in schools, community, and regional theaters everywhere.
If you want to learn more about RENT and it’s road to Broadway. Be sure to join us on our INSPIRATION OF RENT WALKING TOUR where we’ll take you to some of the key locations in the East Village where Jonathan got RENT on its feet as well as places he was inspired by that he wrote about for the show.
Doesn’t this musical make you want to celebrate life?

RENT | 1996 Tony Awards Performance – YouTube

Mike Haber
Author: Mike Haber