Jonathan Larson was a musical theatre songwriter and librettist. He was born in Mount Vernon New York on February 4, 1960. He graduated from Adelphi University in 1982 and studied acting and wrote musicals in his spare time. Before creating Rent, he composed a musical inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, and he called it Superbia. Next, he worked on Tick, Tick…BOOM!, a one-man show which he performed in the early 90’s in New York. He wrote the music for J.P. Morgan Saves the Nation and wrote some music for Sesame Street.
Larson began working on Rent in the early 90s, and it was accepted for production off-off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop. Larson also won multiple awards, including the Richard Rogers Production Award, Richard Rogers Development Grant and the Stephen Sondheim Award, among others. He had a passion for musical theatre and wanted to make theatre relevant for a younger audience. Jonathan Larson died suddenly on January 25, 1996 of an aortic aneurysm the night before previews for Rent. Although its opening was darkened by his death, Rent was critically acclaimed and immensely popular. Larson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama posthumously as well as the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, four Tony Awards, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.
Rent was extremely popular on Broadway and is one of the longest running Broadway musicals in history, running for over 12 years from 1996 to 2008. When HIV/AIDS first came to light in the United States, those who were diagnosed faced much stigma and misunderstanding from their surrounding communities. There was and still is no cure and at the time there were not reliable drugs to help someone with HIV and AIDS to live longer than a few years, at most; it was a death sentence. Large portions of artistic and LGBTQ communities were devastated with the number of deaths they endured. Jonathan Larson himself lost friends to the disease, their names can be read in the life support group meeting. He wanted to capture the lives of those who lived with the disease
After Larson’s death, a second scandal arose over Rent when Larson’s dramaturg, Lyn Thomson, demanded a higher percentage of the royalties, claiming she wrote enough of the script to be considered a co-author. This claim was highly controversial because there was no paperwork giving her that distinction. Thomson claimed that Jonathan would have recognized her as a co-author, but Larson’s family disagreed, and refused to give her that recognition. Thomson and the Larson family were involved in multiple lawsuits until it was decided that while Thomson did write a significant part of the script, it was not enough intellectual property to be recognized as co-authorship.
A Short List of Events in the 90s
• Time Inc and Warner Communications, two of the largest media companies in the world
merge to create giant Time Warner.
• Flamboyant political figure and mayor of Washington D.C. Marion Barry is arrested for
possession of crack cocaine in an F.B.I. sting set up in a D.C. hotel room.
• South African freedom fighter and political leader Nelson Mandela is released from
prison after being kept behind bars for 27 due to his tireless work to end apartheid.
• East and West Germany end decades of political separation when they are finally
reunified and Germany is once again a whole country.
• Mikhail Gorbachev is elected as the president of the Soviet Union, ushering in an era of
change that would see the end of Communist Party rule. Gorbachev would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.
• The nation of Iraq invades Kuwait, setting off the events that will culminate in the first
Gulf War. The United States is quick to respond, leading a U.N. coalition force into the region and defeating Iraq to end the occupation.
• The World Wide Web is created, along with the first ever web page and web browser.
• The United States enacts Operation Desert Storm, destroying the Iraqi army and ending
the Gulf War in a few short weeks.
• The first apartheid legislation is finally struck from the books in South Africa, marking the
beginning of the end for racial segregation in that country.
• The Warsaw Pact, the European Communist version of NATO, ceases to exist as all
parties involved voluntarily withdraw from the treaty holding them together.
• Boris Yeltsin is elected as president of Russia in the first ever public vote held in the
formerly Soviet nation.
• A video is released of driver Rodney King being beaten by L.A. police officers following a
traffic stop, igniting a national controversy.
• The European Union comes into being with the signing of the Maastricht Treat in the
Netherlands, creating the Euro currency and triggering a major shift in internal border policies on the continent and in Great Britain.
• Peacekeeping forces from the United Nations enter the former nation of Yugoslavia,
where civil war rages unchecked.
• The first widely-distributed version of the Windows operating system for PC, Windows
3.1, is released.
• The EuroDisney theme park opens in Paris, France.
• Extensive rioting occurs in Los Angeles as a result of a non-guilty verdict in the cases of
the police officers videotaped beating Rodney King the year before. More than 50 people are killed and $1 billion in damage is done to businesses, homes and public property.
• The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota opens for business, covering 4.2 million
square feet and offering 20,000 parking spaces.
• Bill Clinton is elected the 42nd president of the United States.
• United Nations peacekeeping forces enter Somalia. A large number of American troops
are included in the operation.
• Citizens of Czechoslovakia vote to split the country into the nations of Slovakia and the
Czech Republic. The actual split will take place the following year.
• Russian president Boris Yeltsin and his American counterpart George H.W. Bush sign the
START II nuclear weapons treaty, pledging to reduce the number of missiles held by both superpowers.
• A car bomb is detonated in the parking garage of the World Trade Center, causing over
• A standoff between agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the
Branch Davidian religious sect lead by David Koresh occurs in Waco, Texas. The event would end with many deaths on both sides and the destruction of the group’s compound.
• Personal computer technology takes a major step forward with the release of the Intel
• The World Wide Web goes public.
• The Battle of Mogadishu occurs in Somalia between members of the U.S. army and city
militias. The death toll would surpass 500.
• The North American Free Trade Agreement is passed by Canadian, America and Mexican
governments, codifying the economic interactions of the three countries.
• Colombia’s notorious cocaine cartel leader Pablo Escobar is killed by police.
• American and Russian nuclear missiles are for the first time no longer pointed at each other’s countries, thanks to the signing of the Kremlin Accords. This marks the most significant thawing of Cold War relations in decades.
• The biggest spying trial of the decade begins with CIA employee Aldrich Ames being arrested and charged with espionage on behalf of the former Soviet Union.
• The Rwandan genocide begins in Africa. Close to 1 million people would be slaughtered in a 100 day period in one of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century
• OJ Simpson is arrested for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her male companion Ronald Goldman, sparking a media frenzy over the most controversial trial since the Rodney King beating.
• Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese doomsday cult, released sarin nerve gas in the city of Matsumoto at night, killing seven people and hospitalizing hundreds more.
• The Provisional Irish Republican Army, a terrorist organization focused on Irish independence, announces a ceasefire that will last almost 2 years.
• Close to 50 members of the Order of the Solar Temple, a religious cult, are found dead by their own hand in Switzerland and Quebec, Canada.
• The World Trade Organization comes into being, an event that would lead to protests and controversy around the world on the part of citizens concerned about the economic ramifications of streamlined global trade.
• Kevin Mitnick, a notorious computer hacker, is finally captured by the FBI.
• Yahoo!, the popular search engine, web directory and email service is founded by Jerry Wang and David Filo.
• 168 people are murdered by domestic terrorists in Oklahoma City when a bomb destroys a significant portion of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
• eBay, another giant of internet commerce comes into being as an online auction house.
• The Million Man March reaches the Capitol Buildings in Washington, D.C. The March consisted of black men and was organized in order to address the concerns regarding national social problems and voter apathy.
• Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, is assassinated. Rabin had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in reducing the violence in the Middle East the year before.
• France makes it known that they will cease testing nuclear weapons. The country had been one of the few nuclear powers to ignore the test ban treat signed by many other nations in years past.
• Gary Kasparov and IBM supercomputer Deep Blue face off for a series of chess matches that pit man against machine. Deep Blue became the first computer to win a chess game against a reigning world champion under regular time controls. However, Kasparov went on take the match, winning 4-2. During a rematch in 1997, an upgraded Deep Blue defeated Kasparov and won the six-game match.
• The Unabomber mystery is finally solved after Theodore Kaczynski, a former university professor, is arrested by the FBI. This ends a series of letter bomb attacks that occurred over an almost 20 year period.
• Bill Clinton is elected to a second term as president of the United States, defeating candidate Bob Dole.
• Prince Charles and Princess Diana complete their divorce, ending a scandal-soaked era
in British royalty but opening a new chapter in the press’ vilification of the Princess.
One of Larson’s source texts for Rent was Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La Bohème. Puccini’s La Bohème, depicts bohemians living in the Latin Quarter in Paris in the 1830s. At this time, there was an outbreak of tuberculosis in Paris, which some of Puccini’s characters suffer from.
Before Puccini’s opera La Bohème, there was Henri Murger and his novel, Scenes de la Vie de Bohème. His novel is set in the 1840s and is a compilation of stories which he wrote of the Bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris. His novel focuses on four main characters, Gustav Colline, Marcello, Schaunard and Rodolphe. His novel is a tribute to those “called by art”. Murger wrote, “Scenes de la Vie de Boheme is only a series of social studies, the heroes of which belong to a class badly-judged until now, whose greatest crime is lack of order, and who can even plead in excuse that this very lack of order is a necessity of the life they lead”.
His stories center particularly between the romance between Rodolphe and Mimi as well as Marcello and Mussetta. His book differs from Puccini’s opera in that at the end, the character rejoin the bourgeoisie, keeping their youthful days in Paris in their memory. “Well, the past is past and we must break the ties that still bind us to it The hour has come to go forward without looking backward; we have had our share of youth, carelessness, and paradox. All these are very fine … but this comedy of amorous follies, this loss of time, of days wasted with the prodigality of people who believe they have an eternity to spend – all this must come to an end”.
His stories have been the basis of many operas, musicals, and films, including:
– La Bohème 1896 an opera by Giacomo Puccini
– La Bohème 1897 an opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo
- La Bohème 1926 a silent film by King Vidor
- Mimi 1935 a British film by Gertrude Lawrence
– La Vie de Bohème 1945 a French film by Marcel L’Herbier
– La Vie de Bohème 1992 a film by Aki Kaurismaki
– Rent 1996 a musical by Jonathan Larson
– Moulin Rouge! 2001 a film that was based the Giuseppe Verdi opera La Traviata along with Henri Muger’s work
Bohemianism is a concept referenced in Rent, most notably through the characters Roger, Mark, Collins, Angel, and Mimi, and the song “La Vie Boheme”, but what is it exactly? In the 1860s “bohemian” was a word given to people who were in opposition to conventionalism and, at times, respectability. An essay from 1865 defines a bohemian as “a gentleman who, being no worse born or bred, or educated than other folks, is yet, through some strong peculiarity of temperament in the first instance, acted on by circumstances in the second, alienated from society in its established, conventional, and certainly very convenient sense”. Their life was one of an outsider that rejected the pursuit of material comforts. Bohemians did not share a religion, education level, or socioeconomic status. Bohemians tended to be artists, students, writers and actors. Their focus on enlightenment, rejection of middle class comforts, and individualism set them apart from the rest of society. Some members of upstanding society blamed the bohemian inspiration on education focusing on art and literature.
This ideology persisted through the 19th century, through revivals in different communities until it made its way into Greenwich village in the early 20th century. The bohemians in Greenwich were mostly middle-class college educated people who wanted to live in a place that supported their ideology. The Village was an appealing choice because of the space available for artists, and the cheaper cost of living. They lived in conflict with the immigrants and villagers who aspired to middle-class comforts. The bohemians in the Village were also artists that protested the commercialist Broadway theatres. They adopted much of the ideology of earlier bohemians, but evolved to include sexual freedom and artistic expression.
“1990s Important Events & Timelines.” 90s411.com. N.p., 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
BOHEMIANISM. The London review of politics, society, literature, art, and science; Oct 6, 1866; 13, British Periodicals pg. 375
“Bohemians and Bohemianism.” The Cornhill magazine; Feb 1865; 11, 62; pg. 241. British Periodicals.
Bohemianism Magazine, Blackwood’s Michigan Farmer (1843-1908); Feb 27, 1883; 14, 9; American Periodicals pg. 6
“HIV Basics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 06 Nov. 2015. Web. 2 Feb. 2016.
“Jonathan Larson Bio | Jonathan Larson Career.” MTV Artists. Viacom Media Networks. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. <http://www.mtv.com/artists/jonathan-larson/biography/>.
Lefkowitz, David. “Jonathan Larson Estate Counter-Sues Dramaturg Thomson | Playbill.” Playbill. N.p., 20 May 1998. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
Performing Greenwich village bohemianism Melissa Bradshaw. Cambridge university press pg 146-159 the Cambridge companion to the literature of New York edited by Cyrus R. K. Patell, Bryan Waterman
Sullivan, John. “Bohemians Of The Moment.” American Theatre 13.6 (1996): 3. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.
WHAT IS BOHEMIANISM? Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine (1868-1935); Nov 1868; VOL. 1., No. 5.; American Periodicals pg. 425
8BC: a nightclub that used to be in the East Village that was known for the amount of live performances it hosted
Absolut: a brand of vodka
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: AIDS for short
ACT UP: AIDS coalition to unleash power. A group focused on direct action to end the AIDS crisis
Aesthete: a person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art and beauty
Alphabet City: a neighborhood in NYC in the East Village in Manhattan, so called because of it containing Avenues A, B, C and D
Anarchy: a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority
Antoninoni: An Italian film director who challenged conventional film making by his use of contemplation and ambiguity instead of action. He was a respected film innovator
Apropos: with reference to; concerning. Used to state a speaker’s belief that someone’s comments or acts are unrelated to any previous discussion of situation
AZT: an antiviral drug that was thought to inhibit replication of some retroviruses (as HIV) and was used to treat AIDS. It later was found that there were no proven benefits of this drug for people with HIV/AIDS
Bah Humbug: a phrase describing a person who is deceptive or is speaking nonsense
Bertulocci: An Italian film director who directed the controversial film Last Tango in Paris, another film innovator
Blow: street name for cocaine
Bohemian: referring to a person who lived outside of society’s conventions, but did not have a convention of their own. They tended to be involved in the arts or academia. They cannot be limited to a set of values or beliefs. For further information, look under the “Bohemianism” tab
Buddha: a teacher on which the teachings of Buddhism is founded
C’est la vie: a French expression that means “such is life”
“C”: street name for cocaine
Cage: referring to John Cage, an avant-garde musician who worked with Merce Cunningham
Calcutta: it is now Kolkata, and is India’s second largest city, considered India’s intellectual and cultural capital. It was the former capital of British India
Carcinogens: any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer.
Carmina Burana: a collection of medieval poems found in Europe, dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Also a musical based on these poems with themes that include sex, love, drinking and fate
CBGB’s: Country Blue Grass and Blues bar, a music club in the East Village that held performances for hardcore punk rock and new wave bands like the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads
Circle line: a company that gives boat tours for tourists in NYC
Clit Club: a NYC bar on 2nd street and its patrons are primarily lesbians, but all are welcome
Cross dressers: a person who wears clothing that is considered to be for the opposite sex
Cunningham: Merce Cunningham was a dancer and choreographer, known for his collaboration with John Cage. He was one of the more innovative and influential choreographers in the 20th century
Curry Vindaloo: a type of curry where the meat is marinated in vinegar or wine with garlic and cooked
Dies irae dies illa: “Day of Wrath” in Latin, it is a mass song for the dead
Dykes: slang term for lesbians
Dylan: referring to Bob Dylan, an American musician
Entropy: lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder
Faggots: slang term for gay men
Fallacy: a mistaken belief based on unsound judgement
Geoffrey Beene: an American fashion designer
Gertrude Stein: an American poet and modernist author who had a large influence on American literature. She is also known for her relationship with Alice B. Toklas
Ginsberg: referring to Allen Ginsberg, a poet who is best known for his poem Howl, which talks about sodomy and Angel Dust
Gracie Mews: a diner in NYC in the upper East Side
Grunge: a style of rock music characterized by a raucous guitar sound and lazy vocal delivery
Hallucinogens: a drug that produces hallucinations
Horse: a street name for heroin
Huevos Rancheros: a breakfast dish of fried eggs on a tortilla topped with a salsa, and refried beans, rice and avocado on the side.
Illin: slang for going crazy
It’s a Wonderful Life: a Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie
Jugie Boogie: a street name from the late 80’s early 90’s for cocaine
Junkie: a person with a compulsive habit or obsessive dependency on something
Kurosawa: a Japanese film director, the first Japanese director to win international acclaim, who constantly experimented with the way he told his stories
Kyrie Eleison: Greek for “Lord, have mercy” it is also a Christian prayer
Langston Hughes: an American poet, novelist and playwright who focused on African American heritage and themes and was a primary contributor to the Harlem Renaissance
Lenny Bruce: An American stand-up comedian who was known for his controversial performances and drug addiction
Lezzies: a slang term for lesbians
LL Bean: L.L.Bean, Inc., branded as L.L.Bean, is an American, privately held, mail-order, online, and retail company founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean. The company is currently based in Freeport, Maine, United States. It specializes in clothing and outdoor recreation equipment. Its annual sales were USD $1.56 billion in 2013.
Marlboro: a brand of cigarettes
Masochism: the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from one’s own pain or humiliation.
Maya Angelou: a highly celebrated and award-winning African American poet
Mercurochrome: an antiseptic
Metaphysic(s): the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space
Miss Porter’s: a prep school for young women
Mussetta Waltz: a song from Puccini’s opera La Boehme
Pablo Neruda: a Chilean poet and diplomat. He was an outspoken communist and also won the Nobel Prize for literature
Patched: connect by a temporary electrical, radio, or telephonic connection
Pee wee herman: a character played by Paul Reubens. His character became a cult figure
Pound Ridge: a town in Westchester county, New York state
Prozac: an antidepressant used for controlling anxiety and stress
Pyramid Club: a night club in NYC
S & M: abbreviation. S&M is defined as sadism and masochism which is a practice of taking or causing abuse during sex.
Scarsdale: a city in New York state
Smack: street name for heroin
Sodomy: sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation
Sondheim: an American lyricist and composer who was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Sontag: she was an American filmmaker, novelist, and cultural analyst.
Spike Lee: American filmmaker who is known for his controversial films that deal with race relations, urban violence and crime
Steuben Glass: an American art glass manufacturer
Taboo: proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable
Ted Koppel: an American broadcast journalist, and was the anchor for Nightline.
The Sex Pistols: an English punk rock band who were known for being intentionally offensive and crude
The Village Voice: a free weekly newspaper in NYC
Thelma and Louise: a film from 1991 with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis that follows the lives of two women who leave their family behind and go on the run from the police because they killed a man that threatened to assault them. At the end of the movie, they are corned at the edge of a canyon and decide to drive over a cliff together
Trisexuals: pertaining to having sex with males, females, and one’s self
Tuckahoe: a village in Eastchester, New York
Turpentine: a volatile pungent oil distilled from gum turpentine or pine wood, used in mixing paints and varnishes and in liniment
Uta: referring to Uta Hagen, a Tony award-winning actress and an important acting teacher who taught many accomplished actors. She wrote some acting books as well, Respect for Acting and A Challenge for the Actor
Vaclav Havel: A Czech writer philosopher and the last president of Czechoslovakia
Vagabond: : a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job
Vocoder: a synthesizer that produces sounds from an analysis of speech input
X: street name for ecstasy, or MDMA (Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine)
Yitgadal V’ Yitkadash: a mourner’s kaddish
Yuppie: a young person with a well-paid job and a fashionable lifestyle. “Young urban professional”