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08 Sep 2008

Daphne Rubin-Vega and Anthony Rapp, Wilson Jermaine Heredia and Jesse L. Martin, Michael Greif and family, Byron Utley, Adam Kantor and Will Chase, Michael McElroy, Renee Elise Goldsberry with Tracie Thoms and Eden Epinosa.
Daphne Rubin-Vega and Anthony Rapp, Wilson Jermaine Heredia and Jesse L. Martin, Michael Greif and family, Byron Utley, Adam Kantor and Will Chase, Michael McElroy, Renee Elise Goldsberry with Tracie Thoms and Eden Epinosa.
Photo by Wilson Morales
Rent's last stand at the Nederlander Sept. 7 began with a benediction first used 5,124 performances ago when the pop-rock phenomenon initially bowed on Broadway.

Once the cast of 15 strolled on stage and hit their respective marks — and after the protracted and jubilant applause subsided — Adam Kantor (who plays the narrator and camcorder-chronicler of the story, Mark Cohen) stepped center stage and spoke the words that touched off another emotional outpouring of audience affection: "Like we did when we opened, we dedicate this performance to Jonathan Larson."

Larson never knew he had written the seventh longest-running show in Broadway history. Only 35, he died of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm the night of the final dress rehearsal for the show's Off-Broadway lift-off—Jan. 24, 1996—one week shy of the 100th anniversary of the world-premiere of the piece that inspired Rent.

Since the plight of struggling young artists balancing poverty and creative impulses knows no boundaries in time and place, Larson opted to transplant the plot of La Bohème from mid-nineteenth century Paris to New York's Lower East Side in the AIDS-era of the eighties. And to convey the sound of his time, he concocted a dangerously uncharted, hypnotic blend of rock, reggae, Motown, salsa, et cetera. It caught the ear of a generation.

The passing of Rent, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and virtually every Best Musical award going in 1996, was not a klieg light occasion, but it was super-well attended by the whole theatre community as well as a task force of press people.

There were even motion picture cameras in place on the two aisles of the Nederlander to capture the evening forever. If you couldn't get into this sensational sign-off performance, take heart: The results will be shown in select movie theatres for a special limited engagement Sept. 24, 25, 27 and 28, courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing's new special programming division, The Hot Ticket. Sony also released Chris Columbus' 2005 screen translation (with almost all of the original stage cast).

Two-thirds of the original cast came forth first at the curtain: Anthony Rapp, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jesse L. Martin, Fredi Walker-Browne, Gilles Chiasson, Wilson Jermaine Heredia (the designated Tony winner of the ensemble), Timothy Britten Parker and, currently back in the cast, Rodney Hicks and Gwen Stewart. With three of the original understudies (Yassmin Alers, Shelley Dickinson and Mark Setlock), that came to 13 bodies in a row. Missing in action were Adam Pascal, Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, Kristen Lee Kelly and Aiko Nakasone.

Then there were 50-plus cast alumnae, including Frenchie Davis, Wilson Cruz, Jai Rodriguez, Luther Creek, Amy Spangler and Antonique Smith. And, last but no way least, the cast tapped to do the honors one last time: Will Chase, Kantor, Michael McElroy, Hicks, Tracie Thoms, Justin Johnston, Renèe Elise Goldsberry, Eden Espinosa, Tracy McDowell, Marcus Paul James, Swenson, Jay Wilkison, Telly Leung, Shaun Earl and Andrea Goss.

"There are so many returning cast members," the show's Tony-winning director, Michael Greif, noted euphorically. "It feels fantastic to have all these people who love the show all in one place — and to have the Larsons and the producers and the New York Theatre Workshop so proud of the show. And, I also feel great that they are making a terrific recording of this production. The show was in beautiful shape tonight, and I'm really proud of how we went out. There's a lot to be thankful for."


Allan Larson, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Nan and Julie Larson
photo by Wilson Morales

Al and Nan Larson, the author's parents, and his sister, Julie, were profoundly moved by the performers and the performance, and they spoke to the press as best they could. "We're a family of words and usually pretty articulate, but I think words are failing us right now," said the sister. "Our feelings are very multidimensional." "Heartwarming is the only word I can use," volunteered Mrs. Larson. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The total response was just overwhelming. We're very moved."


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