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Jonathan Larson And The Musical "Rent"
Inspired by Puccini's classic opera "La Boheme,” "Rent” won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, four Tony Awards and three Drama Desk awards – all following the tragic, untimely death of its creator, Jonathan Larson, who passed away of an aortic aneurysm on the eve of the play's first preview. The play went on to become a phenomenal success – launching the careers of its stars and bringing a sense of excitement back to Broadway by introducing a young and eager audience to a musical theater work that carried with it a message of hope and love.

"Jonathan was not only able to entertain people, he also wrote a show that had meaning to it and was pertinent to people's lives, especially to young people's lives,” comments his sister and the film's co-producer Julie Larson. "I think he had a very clear vision and a sense that he could do this, and that the American musical would die if someone didn't come along to bring younger people into the theater.”

"I think ‘Rent' is a mouthpiece for young people,” comments Rosario Dawson, who assumes the role of Mimi in the film version. "I think the reason they are so attached to it is because it encapsulates what they are trying to communicate. It speaks to their attempt at leaving convention behind and how they're trying to figure out their lives. It allows young people the opportunity to say — I am who I am. And when they see the show, which celebrates that, they feel a kinship to it. It gives them a space and a forum to voice these different ideas and maybe even to articulate them a little bit better.”

Playwright Larson created genuine characters who were dealing with real concerns and issues. These characters came alive for the audience in an authentic way that earned the affection and captured the imagination of the audience.

"Jonathan put real characters in this musical," comments Wilson Jermaine Heredia who won a Tony Award for the role of Angel. "They are all taken from people he knew, mostly writers and artists and singers. I think that's why people have been impacted so much — because he used real characters."

The importance of the message was not lost on any of the cast members during the play's early days. Transforming Larson's vision from its initial workshop project to the demanding and dizzying heights of a major Broadway hit, was an experience unlike any other for this ensemble of actors.

"We went through hell doing the show,” recalls Jesse L. Martin, who originated the role of Tom Collins. "I mean, when we started down at the New York Theater workshop, we had Jonathan Larson with us. Then we lost him at the beginning of the performance process. But everybody rallied together and decided that we were going to make sure this story remained vibrant and important and energetic.”

Idina Menzel, the stage play's original Maureen, adds: "Jonathan's passing bonded us. We all embarked on this mission to put forth his story and his music. It took us out of being selfish and worrying about things like how our careers were doing and where we were going. It was more about him and how important it was for people to hear what he was trying to say.”

Perhaps no moment in the show crystallizes this journey better than Larson's song "No Day But Today,” Menzel continues. "To sing those lyrics on stage every night, knowing what we had gone through and knowing that the audience knew what we had gone through, was like a transcendental experience for everyone. The energy that came back at us every night was just incredible.”

"Jonathan got to the core of something,” adds Anthony Rapp, who played Mark onstage and reprises his role in the movie. "He told the truth about what it was like to live in that day and age in New York. He told the truth about what it was lik

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