AUTHOR'S NOTE: The following was written for as an assignment for LA about poetry. It's a biography of his life.
Jonathan Larson may not be the first poet আপনি think of when talking about... well, poetry... but that doesn’t mean he’s a stranger in our world today. In fact, some of his works are better known to our modern generation than classic poets like Emily Dickinson! But his name and story aren’t familiar to every member of this generation. Only a breed of people that call themselves “the rentheads” can dictate every মিনিট of his life. Yes, আপনি guessed it. Jonathan Larson is the lyricist and composer of Rent.
Jonathan Larson’s life was never one that lacked theater. From the time he was born on February 6, 1960 Jon was immersed in musical theater. He was born in White Plains, a town just outside New York City with his parents Al and Nan, avid musical theater lovers. Jonathan’s parents would regularly take him and his older sister, Julie, to shows in the city, trying to familiarize them with the theater. Even when he was just in Kindergarten, Jon embraced his musical theater দ্বারা organizing productions of shows like “Gilligan’s Island” in the back yard of his suburban home. In third grade, he wrote, directed, and starred in a প্রদর্শনী of his own which landed him a spot in the town newspaper. In his high school, Jon was so well known as an actor that the school developed a musical theater program just for him. In college, he was pretty much in charge of the theater program. Jonathan had landed a full scholarship to Adelphi University. This was when he began লেখা and composing musicals. He hadn’t known how good he would be at it yet his teachers and mentors remember him as one of the best composers they had ever met. The whole time, Jonathan Larson idolized Stephen Sondheim and even wrote him a letter in Senior year. Over time, Sondheim would become a sort of mentor for Jonathan, always responding with letters of উপদেশ if Jon asked. Jonathan moved to New York in 1982 after graduating college, in hopes of becoming a great composer instead of an actor.
His life downtown was never a picnic. Jonathan lived a bohemian life style in a tiny apartment that was falling apart and loaded to the brim with his equipment. To support himself, he worked in the MoonDance ভোজনকারী in Soho as a waiter. He spent all of his spare time composing music. He dated a dancer for almost four years. Unfortunately, the relationship didn’t work out as she tended to cheat on him with other men and eventually broke up with him to be with another woman. Go figure. During this time, he wrote lots of সঙ্গীত and lyrics other than Rent. Some of Jon’s other shows include Sacrimmoralinority written in 1981 while at Adelphi University. It was later renamed Saved! - An Immoral Musical on the Moral Majority and won him and his coauthor David Glenn Armstrong a লেখা award from ASCAP. He also wrote সঙ্গীত for TV Shows like Sesame রাস্তা during this period of time. From 1983 to 1990, Jon worked on a প্রদর্শনী called Superbia that was an updated version of George Orwell’s book 1984. Much to Jon’s dismay, the প্রদর্শনী never got produced because it would be too expensive. The প্রদর্শনী is also mentioned in his rock monologue tick, tick...BOOM!
tick, tick...BOOM! was originally titled 30/90, due to the fact it was largely based on the fact Jon turning 30 in 1990. The musical chronicles part of Jon’s life, in which we encounter his dancer girlfriend (who, during the show, breaks up with him), his job at the MoonDance diner, and the লেখা of Superbia. The whole প্রদর্শনী is told in a comical way, with Jon constantly talking directly to the audience, saying things like “The sound আপনি are hearing is not a technical problem. It is not a musical cue. It is not a joke. It is the sound of one man's mounting anxiety. I ... am that man. ...Hi.” (which is the opening line of the show) The প্রদর্শনী is comical and amusing, while also having a serious air. Also in tick, tick...BOOM!, it mentions his friend Michael who is infected with HIV. The character was modeled after his good childhood friend Matt O’Grady. That’s not the only place where Matt appears. In fact, he was the মুসে behind Rent and appears there as Angel.
This brings me to Rent, the প্রদর্শনী of all shows. Jonathan not only grew up on showtunes. He also listened to rock সঙ্গীত like The Who and Billy Joel. He thought that the মিউজিক্যাল that were continuing to play on Broadway were too old for the new generation. He felt that the সঙ্গীত hadn’t changed at all since the 1940’s even though almost 50 years had passed. Unfortunately, most people didn’t catch onto this idea of his at first. Rent was the first time he had a chance.
Rent is described on Wikipedia as “...the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York's Lower East Side in the thriving days of the Bohemian East Village, under the shadow of AIDS.” That’s a very slimmed down, but accurate, telling of the epic show. It opened on April 29, 1996 in the Nederlander theater on Broadway and is set to close on June 1st of this year, just over 12 years running. It was made into a movie in November 2005 with almost the entire original cast of the show. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards in 1996, and won four of them including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score.
In 1989, Jonathan first met Billy Aronson, a playwright who had been trained at Yale. Aronson had the idea of updating Puccini’s La Bohéme to make it আরো about people who Jonathan Larson lived among, people who had a hard time making money under the conditions they were in. Billy Aronson thought it should be set on the Upper West Side but Jonathan disagreed. He wasn’t from অথবা familiar with that part of New York, and instead convinced Aronson otherwise, changing the location to East Village in Alphabet City. Two years later, Jonathan took on the project দ্বারা himself. This was the very beginning of Rent.
La Bohéme is an opera chronicling people affected দ্বারা tuberculosis. But that wasn’t modern অথবা relevant in 1990. Instead, Jon switched it to AIDS, the equivalent in our world today. He was very familiar with HIV and AIDS seeing as he knew many people who had been affected দ্বারা it. Rent turned out to be a way for him to deal with the experience. He spent a বছর figuring out the themes in the show, cutting down his work days to only 3 per week. He tried to fuel himself with খাবার mindlessly, preparing পাস্তা for a full week on Sunday nights and eating boxes of Shredded Wheat for breakfast. Jon believe that he had to focus all of his brainpower on the show.
Jonathan finally finished the first draft of Rent in the summer of 1992. Once he finished, he got on his bike and rode through the East Village. There he saw remodeling going on at the New York Theater Workshop. After walking into the open construction space, he instantly fell in প্রণয় and deemed it perfect for Rent. New York Theater Workshop had a reputation for producing new shows, so it was indeed the right place to put Rent. Jonathan gave a tape to the artistic director, Jim Nicola. Not all of the songs were there at the time, but most of the really big numbers were. After listening to the tape, Jim decided it was a go. He ব্যক্ত “The story wasn't quite there yet - there didn't seem to be a clear story - but the সঙ্গীত was thrilling”
In the spring of 1993, NYTW did a পাঠ করা of Rent. It got mixed reviews, some people hating it thinking it was “ragged”, but others instantly fell in প্রণয় with the score and the characters. One of his অনুরাগী was Jeffery Seller, a producer with a similar vision to Jon’s. He loved the rock score, but the plot wasn’t very good. Some of his other producer বন্ধু even left at intermission. Still, Jeffery was willing to give it a try.
It was then that Jonathan sent a letter to Sondheim, asking for উপদেশ about the show. He got a reply, suggesting he apply for a grant to get some money. Jonathan did, and received $45,000 to help out with the costs of Rent. Soon after they found their director, Michael Greif. He ব্যক্ত that what impressed him “was its youth and enthusiasm, and that it was a musical about contemporary life. Jon was লেখা about some people I felt I knew, that I sort of loved, অথবা had loved in my life.” His outlook on life was the exact opposite of Jon’s. Jon had written Rent with an optimistic outlook on such dark subject matter. Michael was tough and just a bit আরো pessimistic. They balanced each other out, making an excellent team, even if they did have their differences sometimes.
The script was edited and rewritten over and over again. The set was decided to be made up of only a couple of tables that would serve multiple purposes. Jonathan ran a workshop of Rent in November in which some of the final cast was a part of, including Anthony Rapp. The play ran for two weeks, getting larger and larger turnouts as time went on. Still, something was missing from Rent. There was passion and there was a মুসে behind it , but the characters weren’t complete, and the plot had its flaws. Jeffery Seller came back to see it, bringing some of his partners with him, and was sold on the show. They decided on a full scale production of Rent a বছর in the future. Jim Nicola got dramaturgs and বন্ধু to help out Jonathan with plot. It was decided that he write biographies for each of his character, and write Rent through each person’s eyes. He spent the whole summer learning to understand the characters until they all felt that he really had a perfected understanding.
In October, Jonathan was convinced it was over. He had a final script of Rent that had come very far from the original. His collaborators and বন্ধু offered suggestions but Jon refused. He didn’t want to do any আরো work on the show. In desperation, Jonathan wrote to Sondheim yet again. His response was that “theater is collaborative” and that Jon should listen to his coworkers had to say. Jonathan fixed Rent reluctantly as they began to cast the প্রদর্শনী with young actors who fit the parts and that truly inspired Jon. He also finally quit his job at MoonDance Diner.
The final version finally arrived in December, after Jonathan working endless 20 ঘন্টা days. He was exhausted but happy, and so were his team mates. The প্রদর্শনী was finally done and they were quickly moving towards opening night. In the weeks leading up to opening, Jon was getting sick. He collapsed during the middle of a rehearsal, an অ্যাম্বুলেন্স having to come to bring him to the hospital to get his stomach pumped for খাবার poisoning. The doctors diagnosed him with a flu. On the night of January 25, 1996, the last dress rehearsal, Jon wasn’t feeling well either. He had a sore chest and a fever. Michael and Jim told him to get well and not stress too much as he hopped into the taxi, opening night looming overhead.
Jonathan went প্রথমপাতা that night, put the kettle on, and promptly died. It was revealed that he died of an aortic aneurysm, one that could have been prevented if the doctors had caught it a few weeks earlier. He might have even had a 90% chance of living. He was found দ্বারা his roommate on the floor of the kitchen. Jonathan Larson died when he was only 35 years old, and never knew of the massive success that Rent turned out to be.
After his death, Jonathan’s team continued on with the show. They made very few edits and changes, only the ones that they knew Jon would allow if he were alive. At first, Jim Nicola wanted to বাতিল opening night but everyone knew that they should do something to honor Jonathan. Instead they put on a sing-through, with the cast sitting in chairs on the stage, and all of Jon’s family and বন্ধু in the audience. All they planned on doing was গান গাওয়া the songs, no scenes অথবা dances. But then something amazing happened. The cast could simply not contain themselves. Jonathan’s death only drove them even more. Everyone was crying and cheering and দ্বারা the time they got to the opening of the সেকেন্ড act, it was no longer a sing through. The actors were going full out, not being able to stop. Jonathan’s death empowered them, resulting in an explosive performance. Once the প্রদর্শনী was over, the audience sat down from their ovation silent, not sure what to say অথবা do. The cast was sitting in their seats from the beginning. Finally, someone shouted “Thank আপনি Jonathan Larson” leading everyone to start applauding again. A fitting ceremony for a loved and remembered playwright.
People remember Jonathan Larson every day, listening to his music, and watching Rent. This is exactly what Jon wanted and dreamed of. He says in tick, tick...BOOM! “I want to write music. I want to sit down right now at my পিয়ানো and write a song that people will listen to and remember, and do the same thing every morning for the rest of my life.” Amazingly enough, this is what happened during his life. It wasn’t an easy one, and it wasn’t long, but Jonathan Larson did what he wanted to do for every মিনিট of his life. So, yeah, maybe he’s not what you’d normally think of as a poet. Maybe he’s not the most famous অথবা the richest অথবা even alive at this point. But he’s remembered every দিন দ্বারা fanatics and actors everywhere, and will never be forgotten.