First the incredible reviews, then the four-page editorial splash in the Sunday New York Times and now . . . the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Rent, a rock musical retelling of the La Boheme story, was chosen as winner of the 1995-96 Pulitzer Prize April 9.
The composer/lyricist/librettist, Jonathan Larson, will never have the chance to win another: After years trying to get Rent produced, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm Jan. 25, just hours before the show began previews, creating an instant theatre legend as dramatic as his musical.
Playbill On-Line members were right on target, having chosen Rent as most likely to win the Pulitzer in an informal poll conducted during the month of March.
Producer Jeffrey Seller said, "First and foremost this prize belongs to Jonathan Larson. We are continually gratified that so many people, both in and out of the theatre community, have expressed so much support and love for this incredible show. In a year that has brought some of the greatest highs and lows of our professional lives, this prize will go down as one of the highest highs yet." William Craver, agent for Larson's estate, said, "It's just an incredible honor. The family feels bittersweet, as you can imagine, but they're very thrilled."
Larson's musical relocates the La Boheme story to AIDS-era East Village, New York. A penniless artist's passion for a young woman grows even as illness consumes her. The poet Rodolfo is now punk rocker Roger. Tubercular lacemaker Mimi is now an AIDS-infected dancer at an S&M nightclub. Painter Marcello is now filmmaker Mark Cohen, and so forth. The ending is transformed from the opera, but the theme of love enduring beyond all obstacles remains. Songs include: "Over the Moon," "Tango: Maureen" and "Santa Fe."
The Pulitzer consists of a certificate and a check for $3000, though the award's prestige traditionally has outweighed its strictly monetary value.
This is only the seventh time a musical has won the Pulitzer since the award was instituted in 1917. The previous musical winners were Of Thee I Sing (1932), South Pacific (1950), Fiorello! (1960), How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1962), A Chorus Line (1976) and Sunday in the Park With George (1985).
Left at the altar once again was Terrence McNally, who had been considered a front-runner for Master Class. McNally was front-runner in 1995, too, for Love! Valour! Compassion!, but wound up losing to The Young Man From Atlanta by Horton Foote, who said at the time that even he had expected McNally to win.
Here is Larson's Who's Who listing from the forthcoming Playbill for Rent:
JONATHAN LARSON (Book, music, lyrics) won the 1994 Richard Rodgers Award for Rent. He recently received The Gilman & Gonzales-Falla Theatre Foundation's Commendation Award. In 1989 he was granted the Stephen Sondheim Award from American Music Theatre Festival, where he contributed to the musical Sitting on the Edge of the Future. In 1988 he won the Richard Rodgers Development Grant for his rock musical Superbia, which was staged at Playwrights Horizons. Mr. Larson performed his rock monologue tick, tick . . . BOOM! at Second Stage Theatre, The Village Gate and New York Theatre Workshop. In addition to scoring and song writing for Sesame Street, he created music for a number of children's book-cassettes, including Stephen Spielberg's An American Tale and Land Before Time. Other film scores include work for Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner. He conceived, directed and wrote four original songs for Away We Go!, a music video for children. Rent his rock opera based on La Boheme, had its New York premiere on Feb. 13, 1996. Mr. Larson died of an aortic aneurysm on January 25, 1996.
The Pulitzer is supposed to represent the highest standards of American drama. Often the award goes to a writer of long standing, recognizing a body of work by honoring a single script. In 1995 the award went to Horton Foote's Young Man From Atlanta, his first Pulitzer in a 50-year career. Less frequently, the award honors a writer early in his/her career for a single impressive work. In 1994 Robert Schenkkan won for The Kentucky Cycle.
The Pulitzer has honored many works of lasting stature, including Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Names Desire. Sometimes the winners have fallen into obscurity: The Shrike, The Old Maid, Why Marry?.
It's rare for a writer to win multiple times, but at least two authors active this season have done so. Edward Albee won three times, for Three Tall Women, Seascape and A Delicate Balance, the latter being revived on Broadway this spring. August Wilson won twice, for Fences and The Piano Lesson. His Seven Guitars opens on Broadway this spring as well.
In the past, Pulitzers generally went to plays produced on Broadway. In recent years the awards have gone to plays done off-Broadway (like Rent) and on the West Coast as well. The committee also has the option to make no award at all.
The Broadway-bound musical Rent scored a coup April 9 by beating all the year's non-musical dramas for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Though the Pulitzer committee does not announce nominees as, for example, the Tonys do, the titles of the runners-up often leak out in the days that follow.
This year is no exception. The New York Times reported that Jon Robin Baitz' A Fair Country and John Marans' Old Wicked Songs were the other titles considered by the Pulitzer committee this year.
The Times report could not be confirmed.
A Fair Country has been extended to June 30 at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center in New York. Old Wicked Songs had a short run off-Broadway earlier this season, and the producer reportedly is seeking another theatre in which to revive it. Rent, which ran two months at New York Theatre Workshop, opened on Broadway April 29.
The award makes Rent the show to beat for the 1996 Tony Awards, being given June 2. Its competition is likely to consist of Big, Victor/Victoria, and State Fair, Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, Swingin' on a Star and Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Here is a complete list of plays that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama:
1995-96: "Rent" by Jonathan Larson
1994-95: "The Young Man From Atlanta" by Horton Foote
1993-94: "Three Tall Women" by Edward Albee
1992-93: "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches," by Tony Kushner
1991-92: "The Kentucky Cycle," by Robert Schenkkan
1990-91: "Lost in Yonkers," by Neil Simon
1989-90: "The Piano Lesson," by August Wilson
1988-89: "The Heidi Chronicles," by Wendy Wasserstein
1987-88: "Driving Miss Daisy," by Alfred Uhry
1986-87: "Fences," by August Wilson
1985-86: No award
1984-85: "Sunday in the Park With George," by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim
1983-84: "Glengarry Glen Ross," by David Mamet
1982-83: "'night, Mother," by Marsha Norman
1981-82: "A Soldier's Play," by Charles Fuller
1980-81: "Crimes of the Heart," by Beth Henley
1979-80: "Talley's Folly," by Lanford Wilson
1978-79: "Buried Child," by Sam Shepard
1977-78: "The Gin Game," by D.L. Coburn
1976-77: "The Shadow Box," by Michael Cristofer
1975-76: "A Chorus Line," by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban
1974-75: "Seascape," by Edward Albee
1973-74: No award
1972-73: "That Championship Season," by Jason Miller
1971-72: No award
1970-71: "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds," by Paul Zindel
1969-70: "No Place To Be Somebody," by Charles Gordone
1968-69: "The Great White Hope," by Howard Sackler
1967-68: No award
1966-67: "A Delicate Balance," by Edward Albee
1965-66: No award
1964-65: "The Subject Was Roses," by Frank D. Gilroy
1963-64: No award
1962-63: No award
1961-62: "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," by Abe Burrows, Willie Gilbert, Jack Weinstock and Frank Loesser
1960-61: "All the Way Home," by Tad Mosel
1959-60: "Fiorello!," by Jerome Weidman, George Abbott, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock
1958-59: "J.B.," by Archibald MacLeish
1957-58: "Look Homeward," Angel, by Ketti Frings
1956-57: "Long Day's Journey Into Night," by Eugene O'Neill
1955-56: "The Diary of Anne Frank," by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
1954-55: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," by Tennessee Williams
1953-54: "The Teahouse of the August Moon," by John Patrick
1952-53: "Picnic," by William Inge
1951-52: "The Shrike," by Joseph Kramm
1950-51: No award
1949-50: "South Pacific," by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
1948-49: "Death of a Salesman," by Arthur Miller
1947-48: "A Streetcar Named Desire," by Tennessee Williams
1946-47: No award
1945-46: "State of the Union," by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
1944-45: "Harvey," by Mary Chase
1943-44: No award
1942-43: "The Skin of Our Teeth," by Thornton Wilder
1941-42: No award
1940-41: "There Shall Be No Night," by Robert E. Sherwood
1939-40: "The Time of Your Life," by William Saroyan
1938-39: "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," by Robert E. Sherwood
1937-38: "Our Town," by Thornton Wilder
1936-37: "You Can't Take It With You," by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
1935-36: "Idiot's Delight," by Robert E. Sherwood
1934-35: "The Old Maid," by Zoe Akins
1933-34: "Men in White," by Sidney Kingsley
1932-33: "Both Your Houses," by Maxwell Anderson
1931-32: "Of Thee I Sing," by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Ira and George Gershwin
1930-31: "Alison's House," by Susan Glaspell
1929-30: "The Green Pastures," by Marc Connelly
1928-29: "Street Scene," by Elmer Rice
1927-28: "Strange Interlude," by Eugene O'Neill
1926-27: "In Abraham's Bosom," by Paul Green
1925-26: "Craig's Wife," by George Kelly
1924-25: "They Knew What They Wanted," by Sidney Howard
1923-24: "Hell-Bent fer Heaven," by Hatcher Hughes
1922-23: "Icebound," by Owen Davis
1921-22: "Anna Christie," by Eugene O'Neill
1920-21: "Miss Lulu Bett," by Zona Gale
1919-20: "Beyond the Horizon," by Eugene O'Neill
1918-19: No award
1917-18: "Why Marry?," by Jesse Lynch Williams
1916-17: No award