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RENT Original Cast and Crew Members Reflect on the Show's Premiere and Losing Jonathan Larson, 25 Years Ago Today

On January 25, 1996, Rent premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop. Earlier that morning, the show's writer and creator, Jonathan Larson, died of an aortic aneurysm.

RENT Original Cast and Crew Members Reflect on the Show's Premiere and Losing Jonathan Larson, 25 Years Ago Today

On January 25, 1996, Rent premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop. Earlier that morning, the show's writer and creator, Jonathan Larson, died of an aortic aneurysm.

NPR talked with the iconic show's cast and creatives to reflect on that day, and working with Larson.

Tim Weil, the show's music director and arranger, said that Larson's impact on the show was profound.

"It really begins and ends with Jonathan's writing as a great composer and a great lyricist," Weil said. "He knew as much about Billy Joel's piano playing as he knew about Sondheim's lyric writing. He was really just extraordinary."

Anthony Rapp, who has played Mark Cohen in several iterations of the production including the original and film adaptation, said he believes Larson projected himself onto the character.

"I've always felt that Mark was the closest sort of stand-in for Jonathan," Rapp said. "Jonathan himself was a cis-het HIV-negative man who was watching what was happening around him and responding to it and trying to find a way to channel the grief and anger and hopelessness that he was feeling into something positive. And Mark is very much doing that."

The cast and crew reflected on Larson's worsening illness, and how they remember he had fallen ill during a rehearsal.

"And Jonathan, as only Jonathan would, said, 'Can you believe it? I pass out in the theater right as the characters are singing [the lyrics] "dying in America."'" Weil remembers.

The first performance went on, half as a staged reading, and for friends and family only. When the performance was done, the audience sat in silence for a while.

"We all sat there together, for very, very, very long time," Rapp said. "And then, finally, a voice from the back of the theater said, 'thank you, Jonathan Larson.' And that sort of broke the spell."

Read more on NPR and listen to the full feature below:


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