Show History



Jonathan Larson had been a "starving artist" living the bohemian life for several years, when, in 1989, his friend and fellow struggling playwright, Billy Aronson suggested a contemporary, American version of Puccini's La Boheme. Instantly, Larson saw the possibilities of exploring AIDS, homelessness, sexuality and the struggle for art in an East Village setting. He envisioned a "Hair for the 90s," that could "bring musical theater to the MTV generation." Initially, Aronson and Larson developed Rent together, writing early drafts of the title song, as well as "Santa Fe" and "I Should Tell You". Eventually, the two parted ways amicably, and Larson continued to develop the show on his own. 


Rent had several stages of development before it reached production. The first staged reading occurred in March of 1993. Writer, Jonathan Larson, was awarded a Richard Rodgers Development Award in January 1994, for which he had applied on the advice of his mentor and hero, Stephen Sondheim. The $45,000 prized helped finance a two-week workshop of Rent that took place in November of that year. Two of the people in the audience were up-and-coming producers, Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum. Based on the strength of the workshop presentation, the two agreed to partner with the New York Theater Workshop to stage a full production the following year, where it officially opened on January 25, 1996.

Rent moved to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996, where it ran for twelve years and 5,123 performances. The success of the show led to several national tours and numerous foreign productions.

Cultural Influence

  • In 2005, Christopher Columbus made a movie version of Rent that featured many of the original cast members from the Broadway production.
  • The final performance of Rent, on September 7, 2008, was filmed. Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway also included footage from the closing night celebration. It had a limited theatrical release in late September 2008 and was then released on DVD and Blu-ray.
  • Rent originated the now-common practice of Broadway Rush. Two hours before each performance, he show's producers offered 34 seats in the front two rows of the orchestra for $20 each. Fans would camp out for hours in front of the Nederlander Theater in order to get the tickets. These fans became known as "Rent Heads."


  • If the real-life "back story" behind the phenomenon of Rent had been submitted to a Hollywood studio, most executives probably would have dismissed the script as "unbelievable:" A struggling composer spends years, waiting tables and enduring frustration and rejection. Then, on the very night his career is finally about to take flight, he inexplicably collapses and dies, never knowing the degree to which his work would eventually impact the theatrical world, of which he so desperately wanted to be part. 

Yet, as anyone who follows theatre is aware, this is precisely what happened to Jonathan Larson, the 36-year old composer of Rent, who suffered a fatal aortic aneuryism on January 25, 1996... which was to have been the first Off-Broadway preview of Rent at the New York Theater Workshop.
  • In the fall of 1992, Larson had a completed first draft, which he dropped off with a demo tape at the office of James Nicola, the Artistic Director of New York Theater Workshop, who agreed to stage a reading of the show. "What drew Jonathan and me together in a philosophical place was the belief in how tragic it was that pop music and theater music had gotten a divorce. I felt he was the first composer I had run into who had the possibility of doing something about it," Nicola said.
  • Although the response to the music was overwhelmingly positive, it was clear that there were structural problems with the piece. Director, Michael Greif, was brought on board to begin to address some of these issues. As Greif recalled in The New York Times, "Jonathan had firm ideas and he loved battling them out with us, but there was give and take."
  • The Broadway production of Rent grossed over $280 million.
  • Since 1918, only eight musicals have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; of those eight, six are MTI Musicals: Of Thee I Sing (1932), Fiorello! (1960), How to Succeed... (1962), Sunday in the Park with George (1985), Rent (1996) and Next to Normal (2010).