'Rent' Celebrates Its 21st Birthday

While 'Rent' Celebrates Its 21st Birthday, Let's Not Forget The Lesbian Writer It Ripped Off

It’s been 21 years since Rent opened on Broadway, becoming one of the Great White Way’s biggest successes of the late 20th century. 

Originally slated as a re-imagining of Puccini’s La Boheme, Rent followed seven artists throughout an unforgettable year as they struggle to follow their dreams without selling out, in the middle of the AIDS crisis in New York City no less. The show itself sparked a much-needed dialogue about the epidemic, which was plaguing America at the time, killing thousands every year. 

One of its stars, Idina Menzel, was only 24. She would later starred in Wicked and Frozen, both which established her rightful place on stage and screen. Recently, she shared an old video of herself on the night Rent opened. Take a look:

The show received its world premiere off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop in 1996 before transferring to Broadway a couple months later, where it ran for 5,123 performances. Rent won the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. 

But while theater-lovers and Broadway fanatics express their love for the show, let’s not forget the story of Sarah Schulman, the lesbian writer and social activist Rent creator Jonathan Larson allegedly ripped off. 

As Slate reports, Schulman noticed in 1996 that Rent seemed to borrow characters and situations from her novel People in Trouble. In her later book Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America, she listed the similarities between her novel and Rent. At one point, she even confronted Larson’s estate and explains why she chose not to sue for copyright infringement. 

“I [published] a novel in 1990 called People in Trouble, which was based on a love relationship I had with a married woman in the East Village during the advent of the AIDS crisis,” Schulman said to Slate. “The gay part of Rent is basically the plot of my novel, but with a slight shift. [Larson] has the same triangle between the married couple and the woman's lover, but he made the straight man the protagonist, whereas in my version he was the secondary character. But there are scenes in Rent, and events in Rent, that come right out of my actual life, via the novel.” 

She continued: “Not making any money from it was quite annoying, since Rent has earned an enormous amount, certainly enough for me to get an apartment with an elevator. But the larger issue has to do with the representation of AIDS, gay people, and urban gentrification… The real story of the AIDS crisis is the story of a group of despised people who had no rights, who came together, saved each other's lives, and changed the world. And that is not the story you find in any of these mainstream depictions.” 

Read the rest of Schulman’s interview at Slate.com.

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