Rent is an award-winning Broadway musical that ushered in a new age of pop-rock music in the Great White Way. The musical is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème. It tells the story of a group of struggling young artists trying to survive and create a life in Lower Manhattan’s East Village in the days of Bohemian Alphabet City while being riddled with HIV.

The lyrics, music, and book for Rent were written by Jonathan Larson, who tragically died the night before the musical’s off-Broadway premiere due to aortic aneurysm. On Broadway, the show lasted for 12 years, making it one of the longest-running shows. It also gained critical acclaim and won several awards, including a Tony Award for Best Musical, and Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Besides pioneering the use of pop-rock music in Broadway, Rent is also credited with inventing the concept of the Broadway ticket lottery. For many, watching a show on Broadway means breaking the bank, but through daily ticket lotteries, audiences can get a chance to buy choice seats at a bargain price.

Production History

Playwright Billy Aronson wanted to make a musical based on Puccini’s La Bohème in 1988 but wanted to replace some elements to reflect the coarseness and noise of modern New York. The year after, composer Jonathan Larson began collaborating with Aronson with this project. Later on, Larson asked Aronson if he can use his original concept and make Rent his own musical, as it was his ultimate dream to write a rock opera. Aronson made a deal with Larson that if the show makes it to Broadway, he will receive credit for the original concept and additional lyrics and that he would have a share in profits.

Larson focused on composing the musical in the early 1990s while waiting tables at a diner to support himself. In January 1996, after the musical’s final dress rehearsal before its off-Broadway opening, Larson had his first newspaper interview with Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times. In the early morning the next day, Larson died from an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm. The first preview of Rent became a sing-through of the musical in memory of Larson.

Original Broadway production

When the show premiered, Rent quickly gained popularity fueled by the recent death of its composer and enthusiastic reviews from critics. Its off-Broadway run became sold out, so the show moved to Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street in April 1996. The controversial topics and innovative pricing of the production helped increase the popularity of musical theatre among the younger generation. Rent was nominated for ten Tony Awards in 1996 and won four.

The original Broadway cast included:

  • Anthony Rapp as Mark Cohen
  • Adam Pascal as Roger Davis
  • Daphne-Rubin Vega as Mimi Marquez
  • Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins
  • Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel DumottSchunard
  • IdinaMenzel as Maureen Johnson
  • Fredi Walker as Joanne Jefferson
  • Taye Diggs as Benjamin Coffin III

Rent closed in September 2008 after a 12-year run, making it the eleventh longest-running Broadway show.

Original West End production

Rent made its UK premiere in April 1998 at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre. It officially opened on May 12, 1998. The production altered elements of the musical, including defining the characters of Mark, Angel, and Mimi as British. Also, some songs were reordered. The show closed on October 30, 1999, and limited revivals took place the years after that.

The original cast included:

  • Anthony Rapp as Mark Cohen
  • Adam Pascal as Roger Davis
  • Krysten Cummings as Mimi Marquez
  • Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins
  • Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel DummotSchunard
  • Jessica Tezier as Maureen Johnson
  • Jacqui Dubois as Joanne Jefferson
  • Bonny Lockhart as Benjamin Coffin III

In 2020, the musical was set to be revived at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester for a limited run but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plot Overview

Based on the opera La Bohème, Rent follows the ups and downs of a year in the life of impoverished, artistic friends living in Manhattan’s East Village. It features Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, and his roommate Roger, an HIV-positive rock musician, who struggle to stay warm and produce their art. Roger wonders how he will leave a mark in the world before he dies. Roger’s girlfriend Mimi, an erotic dancer, and Angel, a drag queen percussionist, look for true love as they face the harsh reality of life as HIV-positive people. Meanwhile, lawyer Joanne seeks fidelity from her wild-child performance artist girlfriend named Maureen.

The group’s dreams, love stories, and losses weave through the musical’s narration to paint a raw and emotional portrait of the bohemian world of New York City in the late 1980s to early 1990s. As the group faces problems like pennilessness, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, political unrest, and social tension, they make personal discoveries and find out what really matters most.

Musical Numbers

Act 1

  • “Tune-Up #1” – Mark, Roger
  • “Voice Mail #1” – Mark’s Mother
  • “Tune-Up #2” – Mark, Roger, Collins, Benny
  • “Rent” – Mark, Roger, Collins, Benny, Joanne, and Company
  • “You Okay Honey?” – Christmas Caroler, Angel, Collins
  • “Tune-Up #3” – Mark, Roger
  • “One Song Glory” – Roger
  • “Light My Candle” – Mimi, Roger
  • “Voice Mail #2” – Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson
  • “Today 4 U” – Collins, Roger, Mark, Angel
  • “You’ll See” – Benny, Mark, Roger, Collins, Angel
  • “Tango: Maureen” – Joanne, Mark
  • “Life Support” – Paul, Gordon, Steve, Ali, Pam, Sue, Angel, Collins, Mark
  • “Out Tonight” – Mimi
  • “Another Day” – Mimi, Roger, Ensemble
  • “Will I?” – Steve and Company
  • “On the Street” – Christmas Carolers, Squeegee Man, Mark, Collins, Angel, Homeless Woman, Cops
  • “Santa Fe” – Collins, Angel, Mark, Ensemble
  • “I’ll Cover You” – Angel, Collins
  • “We’re Okay” – Joanne
  • “Christmas Bells” – Christmas Carolers, Saleswoman, Collins, Angel, Mark, Roger, Cops, The Man, Mimi, Benny, Company
  • “Over the Moon” – Maureen
  • “La Vie Bohème A” – Waiter, Mark, Roger, Collins, Benny, Mimi, Angel, Maureen, Joanne, Mr. Grey, and Company
  • “I Should Tell You” – Mimi, Roger
  • “La Vie Bohème B” – Joanne, Maureen, Mark, Angel, Collins, and Company

Act 2

  • “Seasons of Love A” – Company
  • “Happy New Year A” – Mimi, Roger, Mark, Maureen, Joanne, Collins, Angel
  • “Voice Mail #3” – Mark’s Mother, Alexi Darling
  • “Happy New Year B” – Maureen, Mark, Joanne, Roger, Mimi, Collins, Angel, Benny, The Man
  • “Take Me or Leave Me” – Maureen, Joanne
  • “Seasons of Love B” – Company
  • “Without You” – Roger, Mimi
  • “Voice Mail #4” – Alexi Darling
  • “Contact” – Company
  • “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” – Collins and Company
  • “Halloween” – Mark
  • “Goodbye Love” – Mimi, Roger, Benny, Maureen, Joanne, Mark, Collins
  • “What You Own” – Mark, Roger
  • “Voice Mail #5” – Roger’s Mother, Mimi’s Mother, Mr. Jefferson, Mark’s Mother
  • “Finale A” – Homeless People, Mark, Roger, Collins, Maureen, Joanne, Mimi
  • “Your Eyes” – Roger
  • “Finale B” – Roger, Mimi, Company


Original Broadway production

  • Best Musical, Tony Award (1996)
  • Best Book of a Musical, Tony Award (1996) – Jonathan Larson
  • Best Original Score, Tony Award (1996) – Jonathan Larson
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Tony Award (1996) – Wilson Jermaine Heredia
  • Outstanding Musical, Drama Desk Award (1996)
  • Outstanding Book of a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1996) – Jonathan Larson
  • Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1996) – Wilson Jermaine Heredia
  • Outstanding Orchestrations, Drama Desk Award (1996) – Steve Skinner
  • Outstanding Lyrics, Drama Desk Award (1996) – Jonathan Larson
  • Outstanding Music, Drama Desk Award (1996) – Jonathan Larson
  • Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1996)
  • Theatre World Award (1996) – Adam Pascal
  • Theatre World Award (1996) – Daphne Rubin-Vega