PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Allan S. Larson

PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Allan S. Larson Meet Allan Larson, the father — and one of the keepers of the flame — of late Rent writer Jonathan Larson.
Allan S. Larson
Allan S. Larson Photo by Tim Joyce and the National Marfan Foundation

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On Sunday, Sept. 7, the Broadway production of Jonathan Larson's musical Rent will finally come to an end, after more than 12 years at the Nederlander Theatre.

Because of Larson's tragic death prior to the show's debut Off-Broadway, no one has been more involved with the long life of the musical than the composer's father, Allan S. Larson. The elder Larson has watched over countless national and international productions of the show that has amounted to his son's legacy. On Sunday, he will be there to witness the final Broadway performance of the landmark show. He talked to Playbill.com in the days leading up to the final curtain.

Playbill.com: What thoughts went through your head when you heard the Broadway production of Rent was finally going to close?
Allan S. Larson: Frankly, I had expected it. I saw that [ticket sales] gradually were dwindling down. I knew it would come. But I couldn't put a date to it.

Playbill.com: Does it make you sad that it's closing?
AL: I can't say that, because it's been such a mixed thing. Jonathan died. Nobody every expected this to become the mega-hit that it did become. In one sense it was very wonderful. But at the same time, it was a fresh daily reminder that Jonathan is not here to enjoy the rewards of his labors. You lose a child, it stays with you, but time softens the blow somewhat. Rent's ongoing success meant we never got that out of our daily lives. It's one thing to see a kid on the street and think, "That reminds me of my child." But that's fleeting. You don't live with it all day. I can't say it's a burden, but it's a much stronger daily reminder of what we had to accept anyhow. I was in a stupor for the first two or three years at least. Everybody kept saying, "It's bittersweet, isn't it?" The term pretty well covers it. It's still bittersweet. Playbill.com: Did you revisit the Broadway production often?
AL: Yes. Anytime we came to town, I saw it at least once. I tried to see every touring company when each new company was formed. I'd do a peasant feast for them and try to give them some sense of Jonathan. That's true around the world. I think Rent has played in 20-something countries. I think I missed two or three countries. I missed Korea.

Playbill.com: Were any of those international productions particularly affecting?
AL: Oh, every production has been affecting. Of course, there was one production I was very unhappy with. I'm not a theatre person. I've always been just an audience member. I'm just back stage because these guys are being nice to me. Somehow, it's never sunk in that I have the right to say, "No, you cannot do that." That one production bothered the life out of me, but I didn't do anything about it.

Playbill.com: When they did Rent in London recently, it was billed as a reinterpretation of the show. Is the Larson Estate open to those sort of treatments of the property?
AL: What I have learned is that, legally, they have to stick to the script, word for word and note for note. The staging, they should be doing something different. I didn't realize this when I saw productions around the world, and almost invariably they were using Michael Greif's direction.

Playbill.com: Do you have any hopes or plans for any of Jonathan's lesser-known works?
AL: We're hopeful to see something with Superbia. At this point, I honestly can't say. We're trying to get it straightened up first, because Jonathan did several versions.

Playbill.com: Have you remained close to any of the members of the original cast of Rent?
AL: Yes. Reasonably close with most of them, actually, but Daphne Rubin-Vega we see almost every time we've come to town. We're very fond of her. We've seen almost everything she's done. Anthony Rapp is sort of a second son in this family. He stays with my daughter when he comes to California. Talk about sweethearts in this world, Anthony is one of most open, generous, giving individuals anyone is every going to meet.

Playbill.com: I imagine the new national tour of Rent and the Jonathan Larson Foundation will continue to keep you busy.
AL: Oh, God, yes. The tour stars the first of the year. It's going to go on. Somehow, hopefully, it's not going to impact our lives quite so strongly. Although, now it's also being released in colleges and high schools. But I'm confident that Sunday [Sept. 7] is going to be so electric for everyone in that theatre. Beyond satisfactory. Actually, the biggest problem I anticipate is the audience interrupting too frequently. It will interrupt the flow of the show.

Playbill.com: I imagine all the people who will be there already know the show very well.
AL: That's what I figure, too.

L-R, Jonathan Larson's sister Julie Larson, mother Nan Larson and father Allan S. Larson.
L-R, Jonathan Larson's sister Julie Larson, mother Nan Larson and father Allan S. Larson. Photo by Lance R. Johnson