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End of an era.

Nearly 12 Years Old, ‘Rent’ Is to Close
Nine hundred thirty thousand, one hundred eighty minutes.

That’s how you measure the total running time “Rent” will have played on Broadway when, as the producers said on Tuesday, it closes after its evening performance on June 1, making it the seventh-longest-running Broadway show in history.

But the length of its run is not nearly as significant as the kind of show it was. An East Village rock version of Puccini’s opera “La Bohème,” “Rent” brought a youthful energy — and young theatergoers — to Broadway, to a degree not seen since “Hair.” It also brought with it a real-life story so affecting that it would have overwhelmed the musical itself had the substance of the musical not been so intertwined with the story of its creation.

On the night of the final dress rehearsal at the New York Theater Workshop, the nonprofit theater in the East Village where the musical began, Jonathan Larson, the 35-year-old composer and librettist, died of an aortic aneurysm. He had been working for seven years on the musical, which includes portraits of his friends and the artists and addicts in his neighborhood, young people on the edge of poverty and in the shadow of AIDS, battling the coming wave of gentrification in the name of “La Vie Bohème.”

The show opened in February 1996, two and half weeks after Mr. Larson’s death. Critics were ecstatic, Broadway landlords were battling to play host to an uptown transfer, and everyone in town, including celebrities like Steven Spielberg and Anna Wintour, was scrambling to get tickets to a 150-seat Off Broadway theater in the East Village. Already a theater phenomenon, “Rent,” directed by Michael Greif, exploded onto Broadway two months later, on April 16, 1996, turning members of its mostly obscure cast into stars. It went on to win four Tony Awards, including best musical, and the Pulitzer Prize.

The original cast, which included the now familiar names Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jesse L. Martin, Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, suddenly appeared everywhere, including the cover of Newsweek, marking the first time since “A Chorus Line” that a Broadway musical was on the cover of a national newsmagazine.

“One day you can’t afford to get Chinese-food takeout, and suddenly you’re getting free meals at Balthazar,” said Ms. Rubin-Vega, who added that the public obsession with the show, and the story behind it, seemed disquietingly macabre at the time.

The show’s Broadway home is the Nederlander Theater, which had long been dark before “Rent” moved in, but which was transformed into a bohemian playground of leopard-print carpets and graffitied walls. All along West 41st Street, so-called Rentheads, legions of young fanatics watching the show for the millionth time, can be seen lining up on 41st Street, sometimes overnight, for $20 day-of-show tickets.

“Rent,” which cost $240,000 to put up downtown, has gone on to gross more than $280 million on Broadway and another $330 million on the road. Productions have been mounted on six continents. A movie version of the show, which starred almost all of the original cast, opened in 2005, although it was a box-office failure.

Dependent as “Rent” is on a young audience and fueled by the occasional celebrity casting announcement, its grosses could be erratic. But recently the show’s take at the box office was consistently less than its costs. A closing date was on the horizon, and after some not entirely amicable back-and-forth, the Broadway producers, Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum and Allan S. Gordon, agreed to a guarantee to keep the show running through June 1.

“Something happened with us in the fall in which we were consistently selling less tickets than we were last year and three or four years ago,” Mr. Seller said, citing new competition on Broadway like “Legally Blonde” and “Spring Awakening.” On the other hand, he said, when the show began, “I couldn’t have foreseen that we’d get to five years.”

Over the past 12 years, the Larson family has viewed the show as a source of pride as well as, in the words of Mr. Larson’s father, Al, “a constant reminder of something we don’t really want to be reminded about.”

In an interview from his home in Los Angeles, Mr. Larson said the ending of the show’s Broadway run would mean more shows in high schools and small theaters, a development he embraces. But, he said, “for essentially 12 years I’ve been saying I’d trade the whole business in if Jonny could still be alive. I still feel that way.”

I didn't really see this coming, but I'm not surprised. I think a lot of it had to do with the movie, which don't get me wrong -- I loved it, but I think the majority of people aren't going to make as much of an effort to see a Broadway show when they can just rent the DVD. (Though really you should go see it on Broadway or in the theatre if you haven't already!) I've seen the show off-Broadway two or three times and on-Broadway twice. The closing doesn't affect me terribly because after seeing Anthony and Adam reprise their roles as Mark and Roger I never intended to see the show again. I mean, why bother? Nothing will ever top that, nothing. If I had a pensieve and I could only put one memory in it? It would be that show. It was the most powerful thing I've ever seen in my life and if I think about it too much I'm going to start tearing up at work. I love this musical so much, it definitely changed my life. I'm going to be sad to see it go, sad that it won't have a permanent fixture somewhere, sad that future theatre-goers won't be able to experience it *on Broadway*. But it had an amazing run, more amazing than anyone ever expected, and I know my life was not the only one it changed. This wasn't your typical musical, it touched people, changed people, maybe more than any other musical ever has before. Like I said, I'm sad, but nothing lasts forever, and I know that on Broadway or not, this show is still going to change lives and bring enjoyment to future generations. Later, skaterz.



( 15 beeps — speeeeeaaaakkkkk )
Jan. 16th, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
This is so sad! I am honestly ready to cry. Ever since I've seen the movie, I've wanted to see a stage production. I live in Chicago, so I never expected to see it on Broadway, but last year, it was playing in Springfield and I tried to go, but tickets were sold out by the time I was notified and it was also a five hour drive. D=

Oh man, I have made it one of my Life's to-do's to visit New York and see Rent while I was out there. Now it's never going to happen? I need someone to cling to.
Jan. 16th, 2008 09:13 pm (UTC)

You have until June! Go see it!
Jan. 16th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
I'm already *hoping* for a revival a few years down the road. I mean, it's RENT. =)

I'm working backstage for the National Tour next month, and I am SO EXCITED!

Jan. 17th, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
Shut up, you are not! I am so jealous!
Jan. 17th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
Not to rub it in or anything...but yes. =)

Last year I worked for JCC. This year (so far) I worked for Hairspray, then this month is The Producers and next month is RENT.

I actually saw RENT on tour last April, too, and it was absolutely fantastic. It's really nice when the National Tours acually do justice to the original Broadway versions.
Jan. 17th, 2008 12:18 am (UTC)
Aww that is so sad! I saw the movie and it actually made me want to see the stage show. I wonder if this will affect shows like Hairspray and Mama Mia which are movies.
Jan. 17th, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
Maybe it goes either way, but who knows. I'm excited for Mama Mia to come out even though I've never seen the stage show.
Jan. 17th, 2008 01:01 am (UTC)
I've never seen it on stage before. I think I'm going to have to go now.
Jan. 17th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Definitely try to see it on Broadway if you can, but if not, I'm sure there will be travel productions for quite some time.
Jan. 17th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
Oh wow. :( I'm so sad it's closing, and yet I'm so happy and thrilled that I got to see it before it does close (because the odds of me seeing it before it closes otherwise would probably be slim to none), though I really wish I had gotten to see Adam and Anthony.
Jan. 17th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
You'll get to see it many other times I'm sure. It's still going to be touring across the country, just not on-Broadway, which unfortunately, really doesn't compare, OBC or not.
Jan. 17th, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, good. I thought it was just closing altogether, but if it's only going off Broadway then it's not THAT bad. I just won't ever get to see Anthony and Adam on stage in RENT probably.
Jan. 17th, 2008 07:40 am (UTC)
I don't like Rent. This is based completely on my tendency to hate musicals, but love the soundtracks to musicals. That being said, I totally love the Rent soundtrack. And I feel bad for not feeling bad about this news. CONUNDRUM!
Jan. 17th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
You're weird. :)
Jan. 17th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
I just can't get into things where I have to watch people spontaneously burst into song. ::shrug::
( 15 beeps — speeeeeaaaakkkkk )
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