Jonathan Larson was an American composer and playwright. Born in White Plains, New York in 1960, he began playing musical instruments and performing onstage at an early age. He graduated from White Plains Senior High School in 1978 and then attended Adelphi University on a drama scholarship. While at college, he began composing music for small student productions. After graduation, he played piano in a summer stock theatre program in Michigan and earned his Equity Card.
Larson moved to Greenwich Village and lived with little money, working as a waiter in a diner and writing musicals in his spare time. Jesse L. Martin was Larson’s trainee waiter at the diner and would subsequently portray Tom Collins in the original production of Rent. After a number of initial forays into staged and partially staged musicals, Larson made his breakthrough with his autobiographical rock monologue Boho Days, later retitled tick, tick, BOOM!. The show was performed Off-Broadway by Larson in Greenwich Village and was subsequently adapted into a full stage musical after Larson’s death.
In 1989, Larson collaborated with playwright Billy Aronson on an idea to write a musical update of La Bohème. Although Aronson eventually dropped out of the project, Larson continued and put an autobiographical spin on the project, which he titled Rent. A stage reading of the musical was held in 1993, followed by a studio production. Larson then went on to adapt and rewrite the show into a full stage musical and it opened Off-Broadway in previews on the day of Larson’s death. The show moved to Broadway in April 1996 and became an international success. Larson was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Tony Awards for Best Book of a Musical, Best Musical, and Best Original Score.
Larson died unexpectedly from an aortic dissection, after being misdiagnosed with the flu.
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