Inspired by Puccini's La Bohême, Jonathan Larson's musical updates the plot to modern day New York where a community of East End squatters battle to fulfil their aspirations against the reality of rent demands and Aids.
Rent originally opened at the New York Theatre Workshop on 13 February 1996 before moving to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre on 29 April that year. The death of 35-year-old creator and composer Larson, who died of an aortic aneurysm shortly after the final dress rehearsal, transformed the musical into a grand cause celebre amongst New York theatre-goers. The show received rave reviews and immediately became a sell-out hit, with audiences waiting months for tickets and many fanatical 'Rentheads' queueing nightly to see the show again and again.
Rent went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and make a clean sweep of the 1996 New York theatre awards - winning four Tonys including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book; the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical; six Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, Best Music, Best Lyrics and Best Book; the Outer Critics' Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical; the Drama League Award for Best Musical; three Obie Awards including Outstanding Book, Music & Lyrics and Outstanding Direction; and two Theatre World Awards.
Early indicators were that Rent would repeat its phenomenal success in London. Four members from the original Broadway cast came over to reprise their roles, and the show at first broke box office records at the Shaftesbury, taking £262,000 in one week. It also received three 1999 Laurence Olivier nominations, but it failed to win any, reviews were mixed and audiences began to tail off.
The production currently stars Joe McFadden as Mark, Lorraine Velez as Mimi, Desune Coleman as Benny and Jacqui Dubois as Joanne. It is directed by Michael Grief with musical supervision by Tim Weil and choreography by Marlies Yearby.