Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first preview of RENT at the New York Theatre Workshop off-Broadway – and also of the tragic and untimely death of the show’s creator, Jonathan Larson, in the early hours of the morning due to an aortic aneurysm. He was one week shy of 36 years old.
For me personally, RENT represents the single piece of art with which I have had the longest and most prolific relationship, as singer, actor, composer, student, teacher, director – but most of all, as a human being. When I encountered RENT at age 15, two years before I would need it, RENT gave me the most critical tools I would use to understand and cope with my own experiences of sickness and the transformation of identity that accompanies it. It’s because of RENT that I write musicals, it’s because of RENT that I write pieces based in advocacy, and it’s honestly not a stretch to say that it’s because of RENT that I am basically a functional human being.
20 years ago on this night, when the original cast of RENT gathered to sing a memorial tribute concert as an unanticipated memorial tribute to Jonathan, the cast stayed seated for almost the entirety of Act One. But once La Vie Boheme rolled along, the cast could not help but surge with the energy and life of this unrivaled musical masterpiece. They jumped on the table and sang their hearts out, as casts across the world have continued to do ever since. It is in this spirit that I share this chronological album I’ve created, to celebrate my own transforming and transformative involvement with this piece over the years. I honestly don’t know who I’d be without it.
From the bottom of my heart – thank you, Jonathan Larson.