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Jonathan Larson’s sister on his life, his legacy, and why ‘Rent’ endures to this day

The 25th-anniversary farewell tour of "Rent" comes to the Shubert Theatre this week.Amy Boyle

Even 25 years later, there’s still one “Rent” moment that gets Julie Larson every time. It’s not Angel’s funeral, or the reprise of “I’ll Cover You”; it’s the moment after the curtains close that cuts the deepest. Larson is the sister of the late Jonathan Larson, the brilliant mind behind “Rent” and “Tick, Tick . . . Boom!,” who died of an aneurysm on the day “Rent” was to begin previews off-Broadway in 1996. He was 35.

“The only universal that always gets me is at the end. It’s the curtain call when the audience is responding and the cast comes out and takes their bows and the band is playing,” she says. “That consistently gets to me every time, whether I show it or not. Knowing my brother never got to hear that kind of response. Knowing he achieved what he set out to do and that people were moved by his show and had their lives changed by it.”


Larson, who resides in Los Angeles, said she’s seen nearly every iteration possible of the iconic production — from world tours to high school and summer stock theater, to workshops alongside her writer and composer brother. “Rent” is now embarking on a 25th-anniversary farewell tour that stops in Boston at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre Tuesday through Sunday. It’s a full-circle moment for the show: The first touring production of “Rent” broke Shubert records during 29 weeks of performances in 1996 and 1997.

While she will not be at the Boston performances this week (she did attend in 1996), Julie Larson spoke to the Globe about the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical’s 25-year streak, as well as the upcoming film adaptation of “Tick, Tick . . . Boom!” that Lin-Manuel Miranda is directing for Netflix.

Q. One thing that strikes me is that “Rent” manages to be both timeless and timely. What do you think it is about the show that continues to resonate with audiences?


A. It’s been 25 years, and that’s mind-blowing and remarkable. I think a lot of kids who are performing now weren’t even alive when the show opened. It’s literally been a generation. The overarching messages are being present in your life, none of us knowing how much time we have and making the most of it, and having community. I think those are all very universal and timeless. Some of the messages are wrapped up in raw stuff, but the messages are all loving and inclusive.

Julie and Jonathan Larson.Courtesy of Julie Larson

Q. Looking beyond the period it encapsulates, the characters also still feel like they could be young people today.

A. Yes, it’s that idea of finding community and a tribe and living vibrantly and with abandon. Taking risks. All of those things are still relevant. Unfortunately, AIDS is still with us, though certainly not in the same way. It might be hard for young people to really understand what it was like during that period, though unfortunately, the pandemic may have given them a little window into that.

Q. Do you have any idea how many times you’ve seen “Rent” at this point?

A. Hundreds, I’m sure.

Q. Over time, did you notice superfans of the show emerging?

A. Oh yeah, and over the years, many have become friends of our family and friends with the different casts over time. And friends with each other. It’s absolutely lovely. My parents were always very embracing of all of the casts and fans, and I think it helped them process a lot of things over the years, as well.


Q. Did you ever tour with the show once it hit the road?

A. In the early couple of years, we did an awful lot of traveling with the show and catching up with it at different points. I had young kids and a job so I had to pick and choose where I would show up, but my parents saw the world with “Rent.”

Q. Do you ever do a fantasy football-style draft of your dream cast for the show?

A. [Laughs] No, but I know fans have through comments on social media with people fantasizing about their perfect cast. Have you?

Q. I went down a rabbit hole listening to old productions and found Vanessa Hudgens’s Hollywood Bowl performance of “Out Tonight,” and was like, she was born for “Rent.” And then I saw she was in “Tick, Tick . . . Boom!” and it was like, of course!

A. Oh yes, I remember that one.

Q. Knowing the film is coming out soon, how do you feel about Jonathan’s story coming back into the limelight? (Julie Larson is an executive producer of the film adaptation of her brother’s autobiographical musical, opening in theaters Nov. 12 and streaming on Netflix a week later.)

A. It’s always very complicated, emotionally. This has been the loveliest experience, and everyone who worked on the production is so passionate. I hope it will be received that way. I was on set and very involved, but sometimes I had to walk away. It felt like I was sharing time with my brother. It’s always complicated. We can never have a clear emotion of pure joy or pure whatever. It’s just always there. But I couldn’t be more proud of what’s been done and what we accomplished.


Interview has been edited and condensed.


At the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, Oct. 12-17. Tickets from $48. www.bochcenter.org, 800-982-2787