Meet the Artists Keeping 'Rent' Writer Jonathan Larson's Legacy Alive

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Victoria Leacock Hoffman
The Jonathan Larson Project

It's impossible to talk about modern musical theater today without mentioning Jonathan Larson -- the brilliant composer who wrote Rent and, tragically and suddenly, died the night before its first off-Broadway preview, at age 35. But though Larson's name is synonymous with the groundbreaking musical he wrote (one of Broadway's longest-running ever, and for which he posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize), he was a vibrant and prolific writer during his short time here, writing one other produced show, Tick, Tick... Boom!, along with others that remain in the Larson archives. 

Now, a group of Broadway's brightest young stars are bringing much of that largely-unheard music to the stage in The Jonathan Larson Project (at Broadway cabaret venue 54Below Oct. 9-14). Five cast members, along with different guests artists at each performance (including some original Rent cast members) will sing songs from Larson's unproduced musicals 1984 and Superbia, cut songs from Rent and Tick, Tick... Boom!, and miscellaneous Larson cuts written for everything from musical revues to radio.  Three of those cast members — George Salazar (Be More Chill), Andy Mientus (NBC's Smash, Spring Awakening) and Krysta Rodriguez (Spring Awakening, First Date) — along with special guest Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent's original Mimi), stopped by the Billboard on Broadway podcast to chat with host Rebecca Milzoff about bringing more of Larson's music to a new audience.

"He's like all of us," says Salazar of why Larson's music continues to resonate more than two decades after Rent's premiere (Salazar starred in an off-Broadway production of Tick, Tick... Boom!). "There was this drive and passion and loyalty to his friends and family thing that we all have." Before Rent, Rubin-Vega says, "I didn't really love musical theater, but I loved what [Rent] was.  It spoke to me and my tribe. It really defined what a tribe was for me -- that it didn't have to do with what you looked like, that it was about who you are in your soul."

The Jonathan Larson Project, directed and conceived by Jennifer Ashley Tepper, feels especially timely now, the group agrees. "It does feel like a time to have a social uprising in the arts community, and I think that's what Rent did for its generation when it came out. We haven't really had our moment with art in that way -- something that rallies up a younger group to pay attention," says Rodriguez. "Jonathan's music is so relevant today; specific things he was writing about are still specifically a problem now, things we are marching about now. I'm excited to share this music with a generation that can maybe use it in the right way." 

In this episode, the group recall how they were first introduced to the power of Larson's music, why Rent is still such a touchstone for young musical theater fans, and what audiences can expect to hear at The Jonathan Larson Project's shows. 

#BillboardonBroadway is a weekly podcast devoted to all things musical theater and their overlap with pop music. Click here to subscribe to the #BillboardonBroadway podcast on iTunes, and let us know what you think on Twitter (@rebeccamilzoff) or by rating the podcast on iTunes.


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