RENT- The musical, 20 years on
posted by Jess Wynn
on 16th October 2017

The Bradford Playhouse will be showing a production of RENT between 8th-11th November 7:30pm. Here's some more information about the background of the show.

In 1989 when he began working on ‘RENT’, Jonathan Larson was living ‘’la vie Boheme’’. He lived in an apartment in New York’s West Village. The bathtub was in the kitchen and friends had to call from the payphone outside so that the key could be thrown down for them to get in. He was a waiter at the Moondance Diner, working just enough shifts to pay the bills so that he could spend as much time as possible on his music. Many of Jonathan’s friends were living the same life.

When the idea of updating La Boheme was presented to him, Jonathan saw it as an opportunity to write about his friends and their struggles. Many of his friends – male, female, straight and gay – were HIV positive. Like Mark, Jonathan had a girlfriend dump him for another woman. He had friends like Benny who had turned their backs on the bohemian life for the stability that the corporate world could offer. While none of the main characters are directly based on any one real person, aspects of many of Larson’s friends are present in the many East Village residents in the show.

Additionally, the locations are real. Though he lived in the West Village, he would go to the East Village and observe people and ‘scout’ locations. The Life Café, CBGBs (where Roger’s band played), the 11th Street vacant lot (where Maureen holds her performance) – these were all places that Jonathan visited during the development of the show. While there was no Life Support in real life, Jonathan had become involved with Friends In Deed and based the fictitious support group on this actual organisation.

RENT was hailed as ‘’groundbreaking’’ and a ‘’landmark musical’. It was called the ‘’Hair of the 90s’’ Jonathan Larson had succeeded in bringing contemporary music back to the Broadway stage, and with it a younger audience that had abandoned Broadway musicals for more accessible forms of entertainment like movies, television and music videos. While contemporary music on Broadway was something very new in 1996, it wasn’t new to the artform of musical theatre.

RENT tells the story of one year in the life of friends living the Bohemian life in the East Village , New York City, during the 1990s. Among the group are the narrator, nerdy love-struck filmmaker Mark Cohen; the object of Mark's affection, his former girlfriend, Maureen Johnson; Maureen's Harvard-educated public interest lawyer and lesbian lover Joanne Jefferson; Mark's roommate, HIV­ positive musician and former junkie, Roger Davis; Roger's new girlfriend, the HIV-positive drug addicted S&M dancer, Mimi Marquez; their former roommate, HIV-positive computer genius Tom Collins; Collins' HIV-positive drag queen street musician/lover Angel; and Benjamin Coffin Ill, a former member of the group who married for money and has since become their landlord and the opposite of everything they stand for.

This musical depicts events within this friendship group over the course of a year - or, as the opening number states: 525, 600 minutes. It deals with themes of loss, love, sex, life and death. There is 'no day but today' , this musical claims, and it inspires audiences and actors to reconsider the lives that they are living. It is the sort of show that will change your life.

Among its structural and compositional value, the show is critically acclaimed, having won a Tony Award for Best Musical. The show also has a sort of mystique surrounding it, as its creator Jonathan Larsson passed away the night before the show was due to begin Off-Broadway .