On this day in Film History: Thank you Jonathan Larson

On this day in film history (and Broadway history), Jonathan Larson was born in White Plains, New York. Growing up, Larson became a composer and a playwright and is best known for two works: Tick, Tick…Boom! and Rent, considered his magnum opus.


Thank you Jonathan*

Rent is a rock musical derived from the plot of Puccini’s opera La Boheme. Larson’s production takes place in New York City and focuses on: Roger, a  songwriter-musician with HIV; Mimi, a dancer with HIV (and Roger’s girlfriend); Mark, a filmmaker who is Roger’s roommate (and the only major character without HIV); Maureen, a bisexual performance artist, Joanne’s girlfriend (and Mark’s ex-girlfriend); Joanne, a lawyer and also a lesbian; Angel, a transgender percussionist with AIDS, Collins’ partner; Collins, a part time philosophy professer with AIDS; and Benny, the local landlord and former friend of Roger, Mark, Collins and Maureen (he married into money and doesn’t believe in Bohemian life anymore).

In 1996, Rent was preparing to open (in fact it was the morning of opening day) when Larson was discovered dead in his apartment from an aortic dissection, he was only 35 years old. The show nearly didn’t go on at all, but the cast decided that they should perform, in Jonathan’s honor. The now legendary story goes that when the show was over and the last note had ended, the audience just sat there for a moment, as if unsure how to react, and then all the way down in front, a small voice spoke up and said: “Thank you Jonathan Larson” and the entire house came tumbling down in applause and cheers.

For Rent, Larson posthumously earned a Pulitzer Prize for Drama,  Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score; Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Book of a Musical, Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics and three Obie Awards.

In 2005, a film version of Rent was released and featured nearly the entire cast from the original stage production (the role of Mimi was recast). I’ve seen it several times and I thought it was very well done. This is one of those stories that everyone should see at least once. (On a side note, the melody that Roger keeps coming back to on his guitar and finally finishes in “Your Eyes” is Musetta’s Waltz from the original opera).

*source unknown

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