Producer Jeffrey Seller can't believe it was five years ago that Rent sparked Off-Broadway are flared up as a white hot Broadway bottle rocket, but many "seasons of love" have indeed come and gone since then.
When Seller watches Rent's fifth anniversary performance at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre 7 PM April 29, he said he will be thinking of Jonathan Larson, the rock opera's composer-lyricist-librettist, who died of an aortic aneurysm before he could see his show win the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Does the now-international hit, Rent, about East Village bohemians struggling with issues of loyalty, love and integrity in the 1990s, still move Seller?
"It moves me for different reasons," Seller told Playbill On Line. "It moves me because of how it changed my life, it moves me because I can't watch it without sensing the presence of Jonathan and the sense of loss and tragedy. It moves me because it reminds me of what happened to all of us from 1994 to 96."
What happened was the little show that started at New York Theatre Workshop got the reviews and audience interest to propel it to Broadway, where young Seller and his producing partner, Kevin McCollum, never expected it to be. They thought it would stay Off-Broadway, a thriving machine. Larson died on the eve of the first performance Off-Broadway, and the show became an industry whose box office numbers remain healthy (90 percent or more of capacity in recent weeks). The show's source material, Puccini's La Boheme, also still moves Seller: He, McCollum and Emanuel Azenberg are producing a Broadway staging of director Baz Luhrmann's 1950s interpretation of the Italian opera for next season. The Luhrmann La Boheme was a hit at the Australian Opera in 1990 (and was later revived) and had a TV presentation that was seen by Azenberg, who mentioned it to Seller, about six years ago. Seller said Azenberg was moved by the youth of the Luhrmann production — it was cast not for opera divas but sexy young singers, who sang the Puccini in Italian. Seller said he remembers thinking five years ago that it would be great to mount La Boheme on Broadway and Rent Off-Broadway at the same time. Now, it seems a sure thing that Rent and La Boheme will be uptown neighbors, on Broadway in spring 2002.
Among the theatregoers at the 7 PM Sunday Rent will be members of Larson's family, those associated with the show over the years and hundreds of young fans who waited in line April 27 to buy specially-priced $20 tickets, an offer made by the producers as a way of giving back to the (mostly young) people who have been good to the show.
The special rate continues a commitment from Rent's producers to allow those who may not be able to afford typical Broadway prices a chance to see the show. When Rent opened in 1996, the producers reserved "the best seats in the house" — the first two rows — for "rush" seats at $20 a pop. Fans lined up overnight to purchase the tickets, helping to make the policy a success that continues today (the policy was also offered in the national tour and international stagings).
"Rent is finding a new audience every passing year," Seller said. "As kids grow up, they find the show has something to say to them. Its message still, after five years, is every bit as pertinent as it was in 1996: It's about staying true to your dreams without selling out, and finding love in a world that's ripping apart at the edges."
A private party will follow the Sunday evening performance of Rent.
Diehard Rent fans gathered outside Broadway's Nederlander Theatre as early as 1 AM April 27 to take advantage of the $20 ticket offer for the April 29 fifth anniversary performance of the smash rock opera.
All seats for the Sunday evening show are specially priced at $20 per ticket in celebration of the show's life. No phone orders were accepted for this offer, which began at the box office at 2 PM April 27. By noon, about 200 people were in line for the tickets. Then the line swelled to more the 500 people, streaming down to Eight Avenue and beyond. Some of the show's performers, including Manley Pope (who plays Roger) showed up at the line.
The Nederlander is at 208 West 41st Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.
The gritty La Boheme-inspired musical, about artists struggling to have their voices heard in a time of financial temptation and plague, won the Best Musical Tony Award and earned late composer-lyricist librettist Jonathan Larson a posthumous Tony for Best Score. Michael Greif directed. It played a sold out run Off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop prior to Broadway.
Rent is now the 19th longest running show in Broadway history. In August it moves into 18th place, surpassing Oklahoma!