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January 3, 2017

Remembering Jonathan Larson ’82

by Bonnie Eissner

Jonathan Larson ’82 performed in Adelphi’s mainstage production of “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde.

Jonathan Larson ’82, the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer and composer of Rent tragically lost his life to Marfan syndrome at age 35, the night before Rent had its off-Broadway debut at the New York Theatre Workshop. Larson lives on, though, in the memories of those who taught him and befriended him, through his art and even in the bits of memorabilia that have been gathered over the years. Here, as a tribute, we look at the items now at Adelphi.

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Every actress who played Mimi in “Rent” on Broadway used this chair. 

For 13 years, every actress who played Mimi in Rent on Broadway used his chair at her dressing table. The chair was where Larson wrote when he was at home. Larson’s close friend Victoria Leacock, who attended Adelphi, brought the chair to the Nederlander Theatre shortly after he died. “We…just felt that it was OK to have some beloved part of him there,” she said. “He used it, he wrote on it, he spilled on it, and it’s precious.” Leacock intends for the chair to go to an archival collection at the Library of Congress. In the meantime, she asked Nicholas Petron, M.A. ’70, professor and chair of the Adelphi Department of Theatre, to look after it and, perhaps, use it to inspire a new generation of composers and playwrights. 


Larson wrote most of “Rent” sitting on this bench, which was originally in the Life Cafe.

The Life Café is immortalized in Rent. It’s where the characters stand on tables to belt out “La Vie Boheme.” Larson was a regular at the real Life Café on New York’s Lower East Side and, inspired by the setting, wrote much of his play there, sitting on this very bench. Adelphi received the bench and other memorabilia when the café closed in 2011. Original Rent cast members Adam Pascal (left) and Anthony Rapp sat on the bench to sign programs after their 2013 Adelphi concert.

Larson “cut his teeth in the cabarets” he wrote and directed while at Adelphi, according to Petron, who estimates that Larson contributed to at least 12 shows either as a musical director or writer of the music and sometimes the lyrics. Petron recalled, “He came in with very strong musical skills…he played the piano like crazy.” He was also passionate about his work. “There were times, we’d be doing a show together and he would call me at two o’clock in the morning and say, `Nick, is it OK if I change this word?’…So, he was very into it,” Petron said.

Jonathan Larson items and Center for Health Innovation Director Elizabeth Cohn

Clocks and CD’s from “tick, tick, tick…BOOM!”

Larson wrote tick, tick… Boom! as a rock monologue and performed it off-Broadway in 1990.After his death in 1996, his friend Victoria Leacock co-produced an updated version that premiered in 2001. Clocks like these were designed as gifts for the show’s investors.

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