Broadway is still shaking its collective head over the multi-kiloton blast of publicity the incoming musical Rent got from the New York Times in its Sunday, March 17, Arts & Leisure section.
Amazement, jealousy and not a little cynical speculation greeted the three-story package that led off with a full-color photo of the entire cast that took up most of the top of the broadsheet front page above the fold, with the headline "The Birth of a Theatrical Comet."
The lead read "It burst on the scene seemingly out of nowhere, this pulsing musical with the beat and cadences of the East Village. Almost instantly, the glowing reviews started pouring in, and limousines began pulling up in front of the modest New York Theatre Workshop, where the show opened last month."
Inside was "The Seven-Year Odyssey That Led to 'Rent'" taking up a broadsheet page and a half with photos. The story focused composer/lyricist/librettist Jonathan Larson's life story, which has become an instant Broadway legend: Larson struggled for years to write, refine and produce Rent only to die of an aneurysm the night after the final dress rehearsal -- just two hours after giving his final interview to, yes, the Times.
Bernard Holland weighed in with a classical music evaluation of the score. And then there was a package of headshots and biographies of all 15 Rent cast members, leading off with Anthony Rapp, who plays Mark Cohen, the role based on Marcello; and Daphne Rubin-Vega, who plays Mimi Marquez, the character based on Mimi. The "paper of record" had to print an extra folio to fit all the info, then put more photos of the show on the front page of the folio.
There also was a full-page ad.
Co-producer Kevin McCollum told the New York Post that the show's Broadway transfer had sold more than $1 million worth of tickets as of Monday, March 18. The show begins previews at the Nederlander Theatre April 16 and opens April 29.
The last time the Times went all-out to boost a show anything remotely like this was Tommy in 1991. Before that was the one-two-three punch of a Sunday magazine piece, an Arts & Leisure section story and a rave review for Sunday in the Park With George in 1983. But no show in memory has gotten such a prominent multi-story boost in the paper's most widely-read arts section.