By Joanna Reid
Jonathan Larson ’82 was a noted Broadway writer, composer and lyricist. Before graduating from Adelphi, he spent his years here as an acting major with a four-year scholarship. He started by composing music with his friends for university plays and performances. One of Larson’s first shows (co-written with David Glenn Armstrong), entitled “Saved,” was staged at the university in 1982. Larson later went on to adapt the book “1984” by George Orwell into a
musical. Though it wasn’t produced, he next created the musical “Superbia,” a science fiction, dystopian musical, which clearly has Orwellian undertones. Afterwards, Larson wrote “tick, tick...BOOM!” and the hit musical “Rent.” He brought thousands of people together through his work, so it is no surprise that Larson has had a huge impact on the Adelphi community.
He was the reason I applied. I believe if he was successful and got many opportunities here, I could be too. His work inspired me to become a writer because it made me realize that I could make people feel important. Larson shed light on the LGBTQIA+ community and on people with HIV/AIDS during a time when the community was not as accepted and many feared those diagnosed with the illness. The main message of “Rent” and “tick, tick...BOOM!” is to support the ones we love and to create something you love with the time you have. Attending Adelphi has allowed me to discover like-minded people who believe in this message too. One of them is first-year Kyra Sanborn. We initially met because of our shared love for theater, especially Larson’s work.
Sanborn said, “From early on, I remember `Rent’ being played really often when I was younger. My mom let me listen to ‘Seasons of Love’ and ‘Out Tonight’ specifically since that’s what she deemed most appropriate for a young kid.”
Sanborn explained that Larson’s work was seemingly almost always a part of her life, but it was not until high school that she dove deeply into “Rent.” She’s become even more interested now that she has come to Adelphi. “I’ve definitely been listening to Larson’s work way more than I ever have and I’m more interested in learning about him after the recent release of ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ that I got to see at the PAC,” she said.
She’s referring to the Nov. 16, 2021 event that coincided with the Netflix release of the biographical musical drama “tick, tick...BOOM!” The AU event held in the Performing Arts Center was a panel discussion about Larson’s legacy attended by about 80 people. It was moderated by Jennifer Tepper, a writer, theater historian, Broadway producer and creator of the album “The Jonathan Larson Project.” The panel included Nicholas Petron, one of Larson’s past professors and head of the Department of Theatre; Kerry Prep ’79, a professor of theatre and art sciences who was friends and co-wrote with Larson; Victoria Leacock-Hoffman, original off-broadway “tick, tick…Boom!” producer, Larson’s friend and cinematographer; and Maggie Lally ’82 another Larson peer who is also associate dean of faculty programs at Adelphi.
At the event, Petron told the audience, “He came in like a spark plug and went right to the piano. And this was an acting audition. …And that was my first impression. Who is this guy? He’s a firecracker.”
Later in the discussion, Leacock-Hoffman mentioned “Saved,” a show that Larson staged at Adelphi as a student.
“We knew something big was happening in the rehearsal rooms and then when it came out it was the Jesse Helms period-Anita Bryant. There was a time the homophobic hate, the outward hatred of anyone who was in the arts…gay. It was just a horrible period of time. And this show eviscerated the ‘moral majority’ that they were called. And the show was shocking and that was when I knew Jonathan wasn’t just cute and tall and a talented actor, but brilliant. A genius.”
She went on to talk about how the show was sold out and that Adelphi spent extra money to professionally film it.
If you’re interested in learning more about Larson, you can watch the panel discussion on Adelphi’s website at www.adelphi.edu/news/a-panel-of-adelphi-friends-of-jonathan-larson-82-share-their-stories-at-a-sneak-preview-of-tick-tick-boom/. Additionally, because of Larson’s impact on Adelphi, talented individuals have the opportunity to earn the Jonathan Larson Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to acting majors. It was created by Larson’s parents in his memory. Contact Petron to learn more about it.