The Times' Ben Brantley raved after its 1996 workshop debut:
[O]n one level, "Rent" is about breaking through the self-protective detachment, here embodied by both Roger and Mark, of a generation weaned on the archness of David Letterman and the blankness of Andy Warhol. Like such other recent works as Mr. Sondheim's "Passion" and Nicky Silver's "Raised in Captivity," this show directly addresses the idea of being cut off from feelings by fear.Brantley concluded, "[T]his show restores spontaneity and depth of feeling to a discipline that sorely needs them. People who complain about the demise of the American musical have simply been looking in the wrong places. Well done, Mr. Larson."
This is definitely not a problem for Mr. Larson. Indeed, one forgives the show's intermittent lapses into awkwardness or cliche because of its overwhelming emotional sincerity. And when the whole ensemble stands at the edge of the stage, singing fervently about the ways of measuring borrowed time, the heart both breaks and soars.