Book, Music & Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
adapted from La Boheme, the opera, by Puccini


Opened at the Nederlander Theatre    April 29, 1996    5,123 performances  (Performed all over the world, destined to be revived many times)
Original Director: Michael Greif
Original Choreographer: Marlies Yearby
Original Producer: Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum, Allan S. Gordon, The New York Theater Workshop
Original Leads: Mark: Anthony Rapp     Roger: Adam Pascal     Mimi: Daphne Rubin-Vega     Tom Collins: Jesse L. Martin    Angel: Wilson Jermaine Heredia
Cast Size: Male: 5    Female: 3    Ensemble: anywhere from maybe 8 to 100    Total Cast Size: 16 and up. Unless you’re a school and need to cast a lot of people, I’d go small, not much more than 20.
Orchestra: 4
Published Script: Contained in the CD of the Cast Album
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway is just great.
Film: A decent film version was produced in 2005, starring a lot of the Broadway cast, but replacing Mimi with Rosario Dawson. Certainly worth a look. Also, the final Broadway performance was taped.  That’s WONDERFUL.
Awards: The Pulitzer Prize. Nominated for 10 Tonys, winner of 4 including Best Musical, Book and Score.


Heavens, it’s a beautiful show! A deeply emotional and satisfying experience, unlike any other Musical. If your audience is up to the subject matter and won’t bolt for the door half way through Act I, then potentially a fantastic choice for Colleges and Universities (almost ideal for their needs, I would think), Little Theaters (with big talent), some Dinner Theaters with forward-thinking audiences, Stock, Semi-Pro, Regional and of course, Broadway Producers. I would not look at this for a High School. And I think the subject is unpalatable for Dinner Theatre, generally.

Be Warned:

The show is frank in language. It deals in drugs, AIDS, homosexuality, and sex in general. The fact that it is actually about love and acceptance will evade an audience (or cast) that is not able or willing to deal with these issues. This show is not for everyone. But judging from its very long run everywhere it plays, it is for almost everyone. It is not a hard show to do, financially, compared to most musicals. But it is a Musical. And the cast of leads all must be very, very strong acting singers. It’s a young show, which helps make it easier to cast. But if you haven’t the cast, stay away.

THE STORY: (Outline from Wikipedia)

ACT ONE: On Christmas Eve, Mark Cohen, an aspiring filmmaker, begins a new documentary, as his roommate, Roger Davis, tunes up his guitar (“Tune Up #1“) but they are quickly interrupted by a call from Mark’s mother, who claims she was sorry to hear about his break-up with Maureen Johnson (“Voicemail #1“). Roger and Mark’s friend Tom Collins, a gayanarchist and college professor, arrives at their building but is mugged. Meanwhile, Roger and Mark receive a call from their former friend and roommate Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III. Benny bought Mark and Roger’s apartment building, as well as the lot next door after marrying into a wealthy family. He has plans to evict the homeless from the lot and build a Cyber Studio in its stead. He tells them last year’s rent is due (“Tune Up #2“). The electrical power goes out. Mark and Roger refuse to pay their rent (“Rent“). Meanwhile, a drag queen named Angel Dumott Schunard finds Collins on the street and gets him on his feet (“You Okay Honey?“). The two are immediately attracted to each other, and learn that they are both HIV positive.

Mark tries to get Roger out of the apartment. Mark reveals that Roger has been living in withdrawal for the past year due to his girlfriend April’s suicide after discovering they both had HIV. Mark leaves to find Collins after reminding Roger to take his AZT (“Tune Up #3“). Roger attempts to write a great song to make his mark on the world before he dies (“One Song Glory“). Their downstairs neighbor, an exotic dancer named Mimi Marquéz walks in, asking Roger to light a candle for her, only to continually blow it out as she flirts with him (“Light My Candle“). Though he feels attracted to her, Roger is reluctant to begin a new relationship.

Joanne Jefferson, a lawyer and Maureen’s new girlfriend, receives a phone call from her parents, wondering why she is stage managing for Maureen’s protest against Benny’s new Cyber Studio (“Voicemail #2“). Angel, now in drag, and Collins arrive at the apartment bearing gifts. Collins introduces Angel to his friends and Angel tells how she earned $1,000 by causing a noisy akita to jump to its death (“Today 4 U“). Benny arrives with an offer: if they convince Maureen to cancel her protest, he’ll let them live in his new studio project, rent-free (“You’ll See“). However, the two rebuff his offer. After Benny leaves, Angel and Collins invite Mark and Roger to attend a local HIV support group meeting.

Mark hurries off to help fix Maureen’s sound equipment for the protest, only to run into Maureen’s new girlfriend Joanne. They overcome the awkwardness of their meeting and connect over their feelings for Maureen (“Tango: Maureen“). Mark then enters into the support group meeting (“Life Support“). Meanwhile, Mimi attempts to seduce Roger (“Out Tonight“) but Roger harshly rebuffs her (“Another Day“). After Mimi leaves, Roger admits to an empty apartment his fears about dying from AIDS while the life-support group echoes his thoughts (“Will I?“).

Collins, Mark and Angel help a homeless woman who is being harassed by police officers. She then mocks Mark for trying to assuage his guilt (“On the Street“). Collins talks about his dream of escaping New York and opening up a restaurant in “Santa Fe”. Soon after, Collins and Angel confess their love for each other (“I’ll Cover You“). Joanne exasperatedly prepares for Maureen’s show (“We’re Okay“).

Roger intercepts Mimi and apologizes for his behavior. He invites her to come to the protest and dinner with them, to which she agrees. Meanwhile, cops, vendors, and the people from the streets gather to watch the protest (“Christmas Bells“).

Maureen arrives and begins her performance (“Over The Moon“). At the Life Café after the show, Benny criticizes the protest and the group’s Bohemian lifestyle. Mark and all the bohemians in the café rise up and celebrate the Bohemian lifestyle (“La Vie Boheme A“).

Benny tries to plant doubts in Mimi’s mind about Roger. Mimi confronts Roger about ignoring her during dinner. Then, as Mimi’s beeper goes off (reminding her to take her AZT) she and Roger each discover that the other is HIV-positive and decide to move forward with their relationship (“I Should Tell You“). Joanne returns, explaining that Mark and Roger’s building has been padlocked and a riot has broken out. As the first act closes, Mark reveals that amidst the riot, Roger and Mimi share their first kiss (“La Vie Boheme B“).

ACT TWO: Opening with “Seasons Of Love”, the second act takes place over the course of the year following the first act (“Seasons of Love“).

Having been locked out of their apartment by Benny; Mark, Roger, and the Bohemians gather to break-in (“Happy New Year A“). We learn through a series of voicemails (“Voicemail #3“) that Mark had filmed the riot which had made the nightly news, and that he has a job offer from Alexi Darling at Buzzline, a tabloid news program.

The others finally break through the door just as Benny arrives. He says he’s there to call a truce. He reveals that Mimi, a former girlfriend of his, convinced him to change his mind by making sexual advances on him. Mimi denies seducing Benny, but the revelation that they had once been together upsets Roger. Roger and Mimi both apologize, but Mimi remains upset, and turns to the drug dealer for a fix (“Happy New Year B“).

Maureen and Joanne have a fight, giving each other relationship ultimatums. Maureen’s flirtatious ways and Joanne’s controlling behavior are too much for the other to take, so they break up (“Take Me Or Leave Me“). The company sings a reprise of “Seasons of Love”, as time passes and seasons change (“Seasons of Love B“). By spring, Roger and Mimi’s relationship has become strained. Roger keeps talking about moving out of town. Mimi comes home late again, causing Roger to believe that she is cheating on him with Benny. Roger jealously storms out, Mimi stops him and tries to tell him the truth, that she is not cheating and that she is still using drugs, but can’t get the words out, and Roger leaves. Alone in the apartment, Mimi sings of her love for Roger, and elsewhere, Roger sings of his love for Mimi (“Without You“). Collins continues nursing Angel, whose health is declining as AIDS begins to overtake her. Mark continues to receive calls from Alexi Darling (“Voicemail #4“). Eventually, Roger and Mimi, and Joanne and Maureen, reconcile.

A dance is performed representing the couples’ sex-lives (“Contact“). At the climax of the number, Joanne, Maureen, Roger and Mimi break up again. At the same time, Angel passes away, leaving Collins heartbroken. At the funeral, the friends briefly come together to share their memories of Angel, with Collins being the last to speak (“I’ll Cover You [Reprise]“). Mark expresses his fear of being the only one left surviving when the rest of his friends die of AIDS or break up (“Halloween“). He finally accepts the job offer from Buzzline. Roger reveals that he is leaving New York for Santa Fe, which sparks an argument about commitment between him and Mimi, and Maureen and Joanne. Collins arrives and admonishes the entire group for fighting on the day of Angel’s funeral. Maureen and Joanne realize their fighting is petty, and they reconcile. Mimi tries to go to Roger, but he turns away. After everyone leaves, Mark confronts Roger about his behavior towards Mimi. As the two friends fight, Mark reveals that Roger’s feelings aren’t jealousy towards Benny, but fear of losing Mimi to AIDS. As Roger leaves, he runs into Mimi, who tells him that she heard everything and just wanted to say goodbye to Roger (“Goodbye Love“). Benny and Mark offer to take Mimi to a rehab center, but she trails off on her own. Collins is forcibly evicted from the church for being unable to pay for Angel’s funeral. Benny shows some compassion and pays for it himself. Admitting that even he felt affection for Angel, Benny and Collins go to a bar to get drunk.

Feeling alone and conflicted, Roger and Mark separately reflect on their lives and on the past year with their friends. Both reach an artistic epihany, as Roger finds his song in Mimi and Mark finds his film in Angel’s memory. Roger returns to New York just in time for Christmas, and Mark quits Buzzline to work on his own film (“What You Own“).

Worried about their children not answering their calls, the cast’s parents leave several messages on their phones (“Voicemail #5“). On Christmas Eve, exactly one year after the start of the first act, Mark has finished his film and is ready to screen it. Roger has written his song but can’t find Mimi anywhere. It is revealed that Benny’s wife, finding out about Benny’s relationship with Mimi, has pulled Benny out of the East Village. Collins enters with handfuls of cash, revealing that he reprogrammed an ATM at a grocery store to provide money to anybody with the code (A-N-G-E-L). Maureen and Joanne abruptly enter carrying Mimi, who is very weak and close to death. She begins to fade, but not before telling Roger that she loves him (“Finale A“). Roger tells her to hold on as he plays her the song he wrote for her, which reveals the depths of his feelings for her (“Your Eyes“). Mimi appears to die, but suddenly awakens. She says that she was heading into a light, but Angel told her to go back. The surviving Bohemians gather together to rejoice and resolve to enjoy whatever time they have left with each other and reaffirm that there is “no day but today” (“Finale B“).


“Tune Up #1″, “Voice Mail #1″,”Tune Up #2″, “Rent”,”You Okay Honey?”, “Tune Up #3″, “One Song Glory”, “Light My Candle”,”Voice Mail #2″, “Today 4 U”, “You’ll See”, “Tango: Maureen”, “Life Support”, “Out Tonight”, “Another Day”, “Will I?”, “On the Street”, “Santa Fe”, “I’ll Cover You”, “We’re Okay”, “Christmas Bells”, “Over the Moon”, “La Vie Boheme A”, “I Should Tell You”, “La Vie Bohème B”, “Seasons Of Love”, “Happy New Year A”, “Voice Mail #3″, “Happy New Year B”, “Take Me or Leave Me”, “Seasons of Love B”,”Without You”, “Voice Mail #4″, “Contact”, “Halloween”, “Goodbye Love”, “What You Own”, “Voice Mail #5″, “Finale A”, “Your Eyes”, “Finale B”

Hits include “One Song Glory”, “Out Tonight”, “Seasons Of Love”, but really, the entire score is memorable and masterful.


As always, you may elect to skip or ignore my opinions and rating. If you then find you can’t come up with rent, well, your problem.

Let’s state this up front. The author, Jonathan Larson, obviously an artist of extraordinary gifts and skill, passed away shortly before the show opened on Broadway on an aneurism. To point out an obvious comparison, George Gershwin died very young, of a similar issue. Both men had just composed a popular opera, in Gershwin’s case, Porgy and Bess. And one can only long to know what they would have created next. Every industry has unfortunate tales of lost genius, great promise that died young. It always seems to me especially tragic in the arts.

I saw this show in London. I was warned by a well-known British Producer that it was an awful show, and I should skip it – it was doomed to fail. I should go see Phantom of the Opera, instead, he said. I saw Rent at a matinee. I got the last seat in the theater, and only because the woman playing the lead in a show I was in London to work on was married to Rent‘s Musical Director. It was packed on a Wednesday afternoon (I think it was), so much for the myth that the show was failing in Britain.

And then the show started…and the audience started to sing along. With every note of the score. And they wept, and participated in a way I cannot recall seeing at any other performance of any other show. I didn’t sing along, but I allowed the show to wash over me, and I wept as well. It is a wonderful show, a beautiful show with an enormous heart and an inspired score. It’s just flat out a great show. Afterwords I went backstage and was stunned to see nearly the entire audience there, waiting for the actors, almost as if the performance had been some kind of religious experience that no one wanted to end. Remarkable, a happening, and everything we all hope that each evening of theater will be…and almost never is.

And, of course, the show is one of the great theatrical success stories of the past twenty years, and it is so all over the world. So much for well-known British Producers who happen to hate Americans and American shows.

A masterpiece in many respects. An inspired idea works at the core of Larson’s terrific work – to draw a modern analogy with Puccini’s use of tuberculosis in La Boheme, with what was at the time of the writing of Rent an epidemic of AIDS.

What the show is today is a hybrid. It’s called a “rock Musical” or “Rock Opera” by some, as it is largely sung through and has some rock elements. But the music is, overall, not really rock.

This show deals with very difficult issues. AIDS is as thorny an issue as I can think of for a Musical. Love is on display in all its forms, and there are certain to be audiences who will be offended. And there are sure to be audiences who will embrace the show because of what it’s about. I do not fit into either camp. I love the show as a show, and for its overwhelmingly good heart. And there is that score. It is propulsive, rhythmic, handsomely melodic at every turn, lyrically smart, always fun, always memorable, always a work of at least near-genius. (Genius is a very overused word in the arts, but I would concede that Mr. Larson is perilously close to requiring it as a descriptive.)

By the way, I saw Phantom of the Opera that same night. It had a crowd of a couple hundred. They were bored silly. So was I. You could fit the closing applause in a thimble with room for encores. It is not a work of genius. These are my opinions. There you have it.

My two favorite musicals of the past 30 years or so are Ragtime and Rent. Of the two, Rent was likely to have far more productions, and so it has worked out. This is because Rent is a relatively small production, compact, and relatively easy to produce. It is not a superior show to Ragtime, which has its own stellar level of brilliance. But it will probably survive longer, perhaps to become the definitive American Musical of its time. Time will tell.

MY RATING: *** (An exceptional show, bordering on (if not) perfect, and one of my personal favorites.)




It’s not simple, and there’s a lot of it. It runs through numerous Musical Theater styles, the score is extraordinarily diverse. It is high energy, and precise. Timing the music and dialogue to wed it perfectly together, get the laughs, make the drama work as it deserves.

A Musical Director for this show should have considerable experience. It requires real expertise to make the complex forms all work. There’s a lot of tight harmonies, a lot of singing. Your M.D. Must be very comfortable with pop and rock styles. The band is small, and must be very, very tight. A key position if the show is to work. But WOW, what a fantastic score, unique in every way!

All your singers need to be strong singing actors. The characters must sustain everything.

Mark – Lyric baritone, energized voice, youthful, vital, alive. Good belt, good at harmonizing.

Mimi – Mezzo with an unusual, earthy voice, a strong belt.

Roger – Pop/rock tenor, emotionally expressive voice. Strong at harmonies.

Maureen – Mezzo, with a great big belt, soaring upper register.

Angel – Tenor, with a character-driven but beautiful voice.

Tom Collins – Baritone with a romantic, expressive voice.

Benny – Lyric Baritone, clear definition of lyrics.

Joanne – Mezzo, character-driven vocal performance.

Ensemble – Good belts, rock/pop sound, tight harmonizing required.


This show needs a Choreographer, but for movement rather than “dance”. The movement is contemporary, “bohemian”, sexy, fun, filled with energy. The Choreographer must be familiar with contemporary forms of theater movement. But the music and lyrics must be heard, understood, and acted. Movement contributes to the energy to certain numbers, but I’d stay away generally from hard-core dance.

A Choreographer is likely to be involved in staging “Rent”,”Light My Candle”,”Today 4 U”,”Tango: Maureen”, “Life Support”, “Out Tonight”, “Over the Moon”, “La Vie Boheme A”, “La Vie Bohème B”,  “Happy New Year A”, “Happy New Year B”, “Contact”.   The numbers that will support more fun and interesting movement include “Rent”, “Tango: Maureen”, “Out Tonight”, “La Vie Boheme”, and “Contact”.

“Rent” establishes in a tongue-in-cheek and light mannerrthe Bohemian life style, and our two male leads.   It’s an urgent, angry, fun expression of rejection of all that makes middle class American life.  Keep it fun, non-dance-y, in character.

“Tango:Maureen” is a comic, uncomfortable tango danced by Mark and Joanne.  She ends up leading, and he’s surprised to find out how hard it is to dance backwards.  The two characters agree on just one thing - Maureen, and their shared experience with her unites them for this moment.

“Out Tonight” is an outrageous, sexually-charged solo seduction.  Mimi knows how to do these sorts of things, it’s how she’s made a living.  She should use the whole set, the stairs, the metal bannisters, tables, chairs, you name it.  It is an urgent, vital expression of sex and life, sometimes even acrobatic in the original production.  She closes in on Roger during the number, shows him her stuff.

“La Vie Boheme” should be joyous, an expression of love for the art, the pleasure to be found in life, coordinated, choreographed, totally fun.  Use the table as a staging area for some of the movement.  Get the audience out of their seats with the spirit of fun.

“Contract” is an explosion of every variation of sexual activity that even Bob Fosse might have found surprising.  I’m not sure this one number helps the show much, but it is there.  Kinetic, choreographed, wild, controlled sexual hysteria.

One note on “Seasons Of Love, easily the hit and best song in the show.  This song is as joyous a song as there is in the theater repertoire.  It does not need movement.  Usually, the cast stands in a line and confronts the audience - who invariably commit and start to clap.  Anything else might actually exclude the audience form the level of involvement that should take place during this song, so I’d keep my Choreographic hands - or feet - off this number.

Needs a good, experienced Choreographer, but one who knows how to put movement on a show without getting into real dance.


Mark – 20s-30s, youthful, energetic, Jewish, likeable, artistic. Charming in a bohemian, cheerful way. A guy you might see walking down any street, camera in hand, hair a bit out of control but nothing remarkable. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement. Must be very strong.

Mimi – Late teens-20s. (She says she’s 19.) Usually cast Latina or mixed. Sexy, inner-city smart, addicted to drugs, slowly dying of AIDS. Her dancing is nearly acrobatic, must be very strong. Must have great vitality in her voice and movement, tons of life. Cast for acting, type, voice, dance. Must be very strong.

Roger – 20s-30s, a once-was hopeful rock star with AIDS, looking for reasons to keep composing, keep living. The most “serious” person in the show, conflicted and desperate, he needs to lighten up, and the others work on it. A born romantic and artist. Cast for acting, voice, type, some movement. Must be very strong.

Maureen – 20s, a woman desired by almost everyone she meets. A very ‘artistic” type, more than a little nuts, but clever. Incendiary, fearless as a performer. Cast for voice, acting, type, movement. Must be very strong.

Angel – 20s-30s, a fearless, charming gay cross dresser, also with AIDS. Usually cast Latino or mixed. A kind, generous, energized, good person, who loves the people he loves whole-heartedly. Cast for acting, voice, type, movement. Must be strong.

Tom Collins – 30s-40s, usually played by a Black actor. A sweet nature, kind heart, also has AIDS. Instantly likeable, usually tall, dark and handsome. Computer genius, party guy, pretty much homeless. Cast for voice, acting, type, movement. Must be strong.

Benny – 20s-early 30s. A handsome young guy who is determined to make a success in the world, no matter who he has to hurt to get there. A former Bohemian who has “given it up.” Cast for acting, voice, type.

Joanne – 20s-30s, Maureen’s new lover. Bright, self-deprecating, jealous, in a bit over her head with Maureen. A lawyer, smart, committed.  Immediately dislikes Mark, who used to date Maureen, but that doesn’t last long. Cast for acting, voice, some movement.

Ensemble – Generally in their 20s-30s, all must belt, sing very well, look like they belong in a Bohemian locale. Mark and Joanne have parents who call, and they can be part of the Ensemble, played by younger actors. They are “out of touch”.


The entire show essentially takes place in a near-empty apartment in NYC, without heat, décor, much furniture. It is basically a one-set show, with some variation. There’s often a grid, like a metal staircase with a large landing, hovering over the stage, used for specific “locations” such as the meeting of Life Support. The stage setting needs to be pretty open and able to be used in a versatile manner. Not too rough a job, but you should work closely with the Director, and get a design that will fill the needs of your production, while providing the poor, Bohemian view of life, life without enough food, enough electricity, enough time to live it. These people are hanging by their finger tips, the set should reflect that. There should be “rock posters” on the walls, of Roger years ago. Phones and answering machines date the piece just a touch.

A Set Designer with some but not tons of experience should be able to do this show. This is a very simple set unless you built a metal stairwell, and even then, it can be done without a lot of to-do. An inexpensive show, too!

Someday, someone will try out placing the band on stage somewhere, perhaps on an elevated landing that’s part of the metal stairwell in the apartment. It might work.


Bohemian wear, circa late ’80s, NYC. The clothes are simple, usually. Mimi dresses hot and tight, like a dancer. Angel cross-dresses, and at one point should be dressed like a shapely version of Santa Claus, but with fishnet stockings. Remember, it’s the dead of winter, the characters would have whatever coats they can scrounge up, and other winter wear. A few cops with faces hidden behind protective masks. (May be the only costumes you need to rent.) A few homeless people.

Not too rough a job. An inexperienced Costume Designer should be able to pull it off.


Roger’s guitar. Answering machine. Phones from the period. Bottles of booze. Mimi’s stash. The mic Mimi uses (that needs to be live), and the board it patches into. Mark’s camera and tripod. Others. Work closely with the Director, but this isn’t too rough a job. An inexperienced Prop Master should be able to pull it off.


Very important to the show. It will need to be rich, wide open and bright, the stage should pop for many of the numbers. Saturated colors might work for some of the darker numbers. Intimacy will need to be enhanced for some of the duets and ballads, and don’t be afraid to use a follow spot – this show breaks the 4rth wall all the time. (Part of what I love about it.) Go theatrical, show the audience some of the instruments.

A creative. Complex assignment for an experienced Lighting Designer.


Discreet. Yes, Mimi is dying, and we should see it. Yes, Angel is dying, as well. Yes, other characters have AIDS. Don’t go too far with the make-up to show this, let the actors do the work. Keep this simple. Not a difficult job.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Lighting Designer, The Cast – all of the 8 principles.


One of my favorite shows, and for many reasons. I love the music, the lyrics, the artistry of the show. I love the contained size of it, the intimacy it creates with its audience is remarkable.

And I love more than how it presents itself, I love what it’s about. Look folks, to be frank, I’m one of the relatively small percentage of lifetime Musical Theater drudges who is straight. (I’m waving a “hello” right now to the other three of us…How are you! What…oh, there’s only two of us, now…) And I’d heard before I saw Rent that it was not a show for a “straight” audience.

The idea that this is a show for a “gay audience” is ridiculous, sickening, juvenile and embarrassing! Rent is a show for a human audience. It is a show for anyone who truly believes that there may be love somewhere at the heart of our species. I would go so far as to suggest it is a show to take your teenagers to, in order to open up their ability to accept others, if that’s an issue in your house. The show in no way “sells” any lifestyle, it isn’t it’s purpose, and if it was the show’s purpose, it sure does it very poorly. The lives of the characters are very hard, at best.

What Rent does well is convince the audience that we are essentially decent, that there may be hope for our species yet. And what a wonderful thing that is! It is a work of artistic excellence, every new rhythm exactly right for what the show needs next, every character juxtaposed with others beautifully and comically, and this alone makes it worth doing, worth seeing. But it is also a work of human excellence. And that makes it rare indeed. (These are the very same reasons I feel Ragtime is the other real masterwork of the last 30 years or so.) The show gives me chills each time I see it.

I hope it receives productions forever.