Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Notebooks of Jonathan Larson

ANMT's Music Lab instructor, Bill Johnson, sent ANMT members an email this morning we thought might interest you:

Hi fellow composers/lyricists/creators! I had an interesting experience this week I’d like to share with you. I got a call from my wife, who said “You have to come over here right now and check this out”.

For those of you who don’t know, my wife Jill runs a company that creates movie posters. I rushed over to her office and she handed me a three ring binder with a picture taped to the front of some kind of archaic looking sculpture, like you might see in Paris. I opened up the binder and the first page said: Rent: A musical adaptation of La Boheme.

Inside were two scripts, one dated December 1995, and a revision, from January 1996, with all kinds of corrections, pencil doodles, notes etc. I looked up at Jill with a questioning look, and she said, ”You’re holding in your hands Johnathan Larson’s personal copy of the script for Rent that he was using in final rehearsals up until the day he died”. !!!!

It turns out that Jill’s company is working on a poster for the theatrical release by Sony of the last performance of Rent, happening in the next few months. Johnathan Larson’s aunt sent this incredible treasure trove to them for inspiration in the making of the poster. And what a treasure trove!

Besides the academic interest of what changes he made (sections crossed out, lyrics changed, notes to actors etc, pages of notes on suggested changes to the arrangements of each song, etc)., there was the sheer fun of seeing all of his doodlings (he seemed fond of writing out the entire alphabet repeatedly), as well as some interesting mementos- such as a dozen obviously hand Xeroxed copies of invitations to the original performance at a small theatre on 4th Street in the East Village. I was going to pilfer one of those, but my wife said “Bad karma”. Oh well.

Anyway, it was a fascinating look at a unique mind in the midst of creating a classic theatre piece. Needless to say, it was quite inspiring, but in the end, I realized that the whole show, this work of genius, was all right there, in the three ring binder, exactly as we work on our shows. My wife said, “From such humble beginnings…”.

That gave me a bit of hope: if this great writer, who could spend 8 years realizing his vision, only to die before it ever hit Broadway, could put it all right there on the page, then maybe we could too. Or some of us. Hell, maybe all of us! Anyway, thought you’d enjoy the story. Keep writing!

--Bill Johnson

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