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Happy 25th Birthday “Rent!”

It may take 525,600 minutes to make up a year, but Rent is now celebrating over 13 million minutes since the curtain first rose on its Broadway debut.

Based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème, playwright Jonathan Larson created a rock musical, unlike anything Broadway had seen in the ‘90s. Rent became a cultural revolution – similar to today’s Hamilton ­– and was a highly sought-after ticket.

The musical follows the lives of eight friends living in New York City over the course of a year from Christmas Eve 1989 to 1990 at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The show broke the barriers of diversity by including characters of all different races and sexualities. It was edgy and sexy amongst shows that season that included classic musicals Hello, Dolly!The King and I and State Fair.

“Rent” playwright Jonathan Larson (L) and director Michael Greif | Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

What made Rent so special to its fans though was the feeling of being seen.

“I feel this show is so much about finding ways in which everyone can feel that their identity is valid, that their relationships are valid and honored,” original director Michael Greif told Deadline in 2019. “There’s an inclusivity and an empathy [in Rent] and the ways in which the characters form a family and a community and treat each other with kindness and respect. Those issues are every bit as relevant now as they ever were, if not more so.”

Rent also opened amongst tragedy with Larson unexpectedly dying the morning of the first Off-Broadway preview in January of 1996. At the request of his family, the show continued on that night and is now a historical moment in theatre history.

The original cast of the musical was comprised of basic unknowns, most of which have now soared into popularity: Taye DiggsWilson Jermaine HerediaJessie L. MartinIdina MenzelAdam PascalAnthony RappDaphne Rubin-Vega, and Fredi Walker. Heredia, Menzel, Pascal, and Rubin-Vega were all nominated at the Tony Awards for their performances with Heredia taking home Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical.

The “Rent” film cast (L-R) Adam Pascal, Tracie Thoms, Anthony Rapp, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Rosario Dawson performing on “Today” in 2005. | Photo by Derek Storm/FilmMagic

“It’s rare to be part of something that moves people so much. That experience with Rent went by so fast,” Menzel told Broadway.com in 2013. “I was younger. I didn’t even really know what opening night was. And now I’m thinking back on the times I went to Broadway as a kid and the excitement I felt… And I’m realizing that I’m actually a part of that, so I’m learning to take it in, cause so often I shrug it away.”

Other award wins at the time include Tonys for “Best Musical,” “Best Book of a Musical,” and “Best Original Score.” It also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The music – including songs like “Seasons of Love” and “Take Me or Leave Me” – features some of the most well-known theater songs of all time.

Nine years after the show’s opening, while still running strong on Broadway, it was adapted into a feature film directed by Chris Columbus (the first two Harry Potter films). A majority of the main cast returned, except for Rubin-Vega and Walker who were replaced by Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, respectively.

After 5,123 performances, Rent closed on Broadway in 2008. It has since gotten an Off-Broadway revival, was performed at the Hollywood Bowl, got a semi-live television event, and recently was one of the first shows put on in the UK after the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

(L-R) Fredi Walker, Idina Menzel and Daphne Rubin-Vega perform at the end of “Rent: Live.” | Photo Credit: Kevin Estrada/FOX

With its incredible legacy, Rent is sure to go down in history as one of the best musicals of all time and we will continue to see it performed throughout the world.

In the words of Larson, “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other road. No other way. No day but today.”

If you’ve seen Rent, what is your favorite memory or experience with it? Leave a comment below or tweet us at @celebsecrets.

Author

  • Kevin Studer

    Kevin (he/him) is a two-time graduate of Lynn University and has a Creative Writing Master's from American College Dublin. When not writing about pop culture, he is constantly opening his worldview by consuming different types of media and traveling around the globe.

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Kevin (he/him) is a two-time graduate of Lynn University and has a Creative Writing Master's from American College Dublin. When not writing about pop culture, he is constantly opening his worldview by consuming different types of media and traveling…

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