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Certain plot elements were changed slightly, and some of the songs were changed to spoken dialogue.In 1988, playwright Billy Aronson wanted to create "a musical based on Puccini's La Bohème, in which the luscious splendor of Puccini's world would be replaced with the coarseness and noise of modern New York." In 1989 Jonathan Larson, a 29-year-old composer, began collaborating with Aronson on this project, and the two composed a few songs together, including "Santa Fe", "Rent", and "I Should Tell You".Larson continued to work on Rent, gradually reworking its flaws and staging more workshop productions.In 1996, after the musical's final dress rehearsal, Larson enjoyed his first newspaper interview with theater critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times who gave Rent a glowing review, calling it an "exhilarating, landmark rock opera" with a "glittering, inventive score" that "shimmers with hope for the future of the American musical." Larson would not live to see Rent's true success; he died from an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm (believed to have resulted from Marfan syndrome) in the early morning of January 25, 1996, just a few hours after his first interview.He sacrificed a life of stability for his art, and shared many of the same hopes and fears as his characters.Like his characters he endured poor living conditions, and some of these conditions (e.g. ," attributed to Angel Dumott Schunard at his funeral, was previously used by the character Hollywood Montrose, who appeared in the films Mannequin (1987) and Mannequin: On the Move (1991).The Life Café, where the "La Vie Boheme" numbers are set, is an actual restaurant in the East Village of New York City. ", a song which takes place during a Life Support meeting and expresses the pain and fear of living a life with AIDS, was inspired by a real event.
In 1991, he asked Aronson if he could use Aronson's original concept and make Rent his own.
The first preview of Rent was canceled and instead, friends and family gathered at the theater where the actors performed a sing-through of Rent in Larson's memory.
The show premiered as planned and quickly became the hottest ticket in town, popularity fueled by its genuinely raw material, relevant subject matter, enthusiastic reviews, and the recent death of its composer.
Tuberculosis, the plague of Puccini's opera, is replaced by AIDS in Rent; 1800s Paris is replaced by New York's East Village in the late 1980s.
The names and identities of Rent's characters also heavily reflect Puccini's original characters, though they are not all direct adaptations.