10 Groundbreaking Broadway Musicals


'Rent' (1996)

Rent' musical Cuba
Cuban-American actor Andy Señor Jr. (center) directs Cuban and U.S. actors at the Bertolt Brecht Theater in Havana, during a staging of 'Rent' in 2014. This was the first time in 50 years that a Broadway show was produced in Cuba. ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

You might call this one, the "anti-Cats" musical. Drawing on his memories of his first apartment in New York — with rotting floorboards, no heat and a shower in the kitchen — and the friends he'd made then, writer Jonathan Larson created the musical "Rent." Based on the Puccini opera "La Bohéme," "Rent" tells the story of a group of struggling artists, and while it's meant to capture the passion and love often associated with the Bohemian lifestyle, it also illustrates the dire aspects of being a "starving artist," so to speak [source: Gioia].

The re-imagining of the famed opera takes it from tuberculosis-riddled Paris to the East Village in New York City, at a time when AIDS was causing much distress. It depicts love and passion in spite of progressive, incurable illness. The musical, which dispensed with many Broadway staples, like dimming the lights and starting with an overture, went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama. It was only the seventh musical ever to earn the distinction. Sadly though, Larson never got to grip his Pulitzer, or even see the show in all its glory. The musical genius, who fought for years to see his production on Broadway, died of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35 in 1996, just hours before show previews began [source: Viagas].