Touching moments and chilling stories
1. Idina Menzel wants you to remember what Rent is about.
Though she couldn't be there in person, Menzel did film a poignant video message for fans to remind us all to "stay in the moment" and "live for today."
2. Jonathan Larson's songs were his sisters' kids lullabies.
Larson's sister Julie sat on the panel. At the time that Larson was writing Rent, she lived on the west coast. Her brother was often up late at night writing and by the time he'd be finished with a song it was too late to call his east coast friends, so he rang her up. She'd pick up the phone and he'd say "Listen!" Those songs became lullabies for Julie's kids growing up.
3. Life Support is based on a real HIV-support organization called Friends In Deed.
Cy O'Neal, co-founder and president of Friends In Deed, met Jonathan Larson when he attended meetings with friends affected by the AIDS crisis. "He was so focused," she remembered. "He never spoke in the group, but I just noticed him because of the energy he was putting off in the group." Larson sent her a demo of the music he was working on for the show based on this group, which would become Rent. O'Neal never listened to it. Later on, just before the first performance at New York Theatre Workshop, Larson invited her to speak to the cast at a rehearsal. She didn't want to go, but dragged herself there. Still, at that rehearsal, she heard none of the score. The first time O'Neal heard any of the music was at an early performance. She was stunned. "No day but today" was a Friends In Deed phrase.
4. James C. Nicola knew exactly why he wanted New York Theatre Workshop to produce the show.
When New York Theatre Workshop moved to the village, he wanted to produce work about the new neighborhood so that they wouldn't feel like invaders. But moreso, Nicola loved that in the earliest script, the very first stage direction said, "There is a rock band onstage and a full Broadway orchestra in the pit." Nicola felt it was "a new generation of a legacy of a body of work" that would "sit on the shoulders of those who preceded." The combination of homage to tradition and groundbreaking freshness was one Nicola couldn't refuse.
5. Basically everyone tried to pass on doing Rent.
A theme throughout the panel was that Rent happened in a world before Rent. That is to say, no one knew what this was before it happened. It was an Off-Broadway show by an unknown composter doing a short run. Casting director Bernie Telsey tried to pass on doing Rent. Choreographer Marlies Yearby tried to pass on it. Wilson Jermaine Heredia didn't see himself as a musical theatre person and had finally gotten a steady job as a dispatcher, collecting customer complaints; he was nervous about giving up his health insurance for the job. Aiko Nakasone worried about taking the job because she was making more on unemployment after her Broadway show had closed. Clearly, they all made the right choice in joining the cast.
6. Jesse L. Martin wished he were here.
The panelists were so preoccupied that Jesse L. Martin wasn't there with them that Daphne Rubin-Vega FaceTimed him. "I can't believe you called! I'm so excited!!!" he shouted. "It looks like you're at the biggest love-in ever." Then fans showed Martin how much they really adore him by singing "Happy Birthday" — he celebrated a birthday Jan. 18. The experience brought Martin to tears.
Did you know that...?
- The original cast was paid $305 a week for the New York Theatre Workshop production.
- Daphne Rubin-Vega calls her right knee Mimi.
- Before Rent, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Fredi Walker-Browne did a musical version of Where's Waldo? together the summer before starting Rent.
- Jesse L. Martin was the perpetual missing cast member, according to casting director Bernie Telsey. "There were like eight no-shows next to Jesse's name [on the call sheet]."
- Before Rent, Wilson Jermaine Heredia didn't know how to mix with his voice. Music director Tim Weil coached Heredia during his callback audition, telling him to add a little Stevie Wonder to his voice for "I'll Cover You."
- The breakdown for Collins was "Bruce Springsteen meets Joe Cocker," a.k.a. a white guy.
- Bernie Telsey found Adam Pascal by looking in the Village Voice for ads from teachers offering their services to create rock stars and teach guitar. He called those instructors and asked them to send in their students to audition for a "project." Says Telsey, "In walked about 50 guys who looked like Alice Cooper...and Adam Pascal."