RENT owned the 90s. No other Broadway show managed to have the dual impact on society by becoming not only a pop culture phenomenon in and of itself, but also changing perceptions of what a musical on Broadway could be - and, most importantly, how it could sound. Contemporary, cool, caustic and engaging, RENT updated Puccini's LA BOHEME to the East Village in the 90s and gave it a new context and meaning just as Jonathan Larson himself updated the way the general public looked at Broadway - at a time when musicals had fallen farther out of fashion than they had since their early years, approaching the turn of the last century. Yet, at the end of the millennium - to quote one of the show's lyrics - RENT represented the hopes, dreams and desires of many Broadway babies and what we wished would be achieved on the Great White Way in the new century. While SPRING AWAKENING, AMERICAN IDIOT and NEXT TO NORMAL certainly stand as solid continuations of the rock musical formula recalibrated and made anew in the mold made by RENT, no show since RENT has quite managed to have the cultural impact and win over audiences and critics alike in as major a way as that Tony Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical has - with the exception, perhaps, of WICKED, which obviously owes a debt to its Oz-ian source inspiration and the built-in audience that comes along with that (and, even then, the critics and Tony Awards did not warm to it much). Yes, indeed, RENT represents Broadway to an entire generation of theatergoers in its sound, style, ideals and overall feeling, mood and tone and the subsequent success of the many members of the simply astounding assortment of talents that comprised the original cast acts as evidence that the show may have had the cast of the decade, as well; if not the most impressive original cast ever.
Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jessie L. Martin, Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs have all gone on to huge success on stages and screens the world over since their Broadway bows in RENT, while others, such as Fredi Walker, have stepped away from the spotlight, and, even though Wilson Jermaine Heredia was the only Tony-winner of the group at the 1996 Tony Awards, the chemistry and camaraderie created and showcased in the original cast's rendition of a medley of songs on the telecast reminds us to this day why these individuals were destined for the stars and why this score struck a special chord with the public - not only as a result of its magnetic musical attributes, but, also, because of the combustible and electric performances of the unsurpassable (and still unsurpassed) original company.
Watch the original cast of RENT on the 1996 Tony Awards, following a guffaw-inducing introduction by that year's host, Nathan Lane. Following the performance, stay tuned for RENT's wins in the Best Book and Best Score categories at the Tony Awards 50th ceremony, as well as his sister Julie's heartfelt acceptance speech(es) in his unfortunate absence, Larson having unexpectedly passed away only five months before the ceremony. Additionally, see Andrew Lloyd Webber present RENT with the top prize for Best Musical.
Now, witness the original cast reunited (mostly) in 2008 in honor of the show's anniversary on Broadway in a soul-stirring rendition of "Seasons Of Love", following a brief introduction by Anthony Rapp and a performance of "La Vie Boheme" by the show's then-current Broadway cast.
So, what do you think is the element most responsible for RENT's unparalleled success in the 1990s and beyond? Is it the stirring and emotional songs, the endless opportunities it presents for its performers or the combination of both? As interest in the musical continues - a feature film was made in 2006, the final Broadway performance was filmed in HD, Neil Patrick Harris staged it at the Hollywood Bowl and it is currently running Off-Broadway in a new production - it seems that, for some of us, RENT will always be due... and we couldn't be happier about it! Viva La Vie Boheme!