Louis-Henri Murger's novel, “Scènes de la vie de Bohème,” was a loose collection of vignettes based on his own life as a poverty-stricken writer in Paris in the 1840s.
He and his friends referred to themselves as “the water drinkers” because they couldn't afford to drink wine. His book went on to become the inspiration for dueling operas, both called La bohème, one by Puccini and one by Leoncavallo. The Leoncavallo interpretation was not successful, and nowadays, when people refer to the opera, they almost certainly mean the Puccini version.
A modern take on Puccini's La bohème is the rock musical Rent. Jonathan Larson wrote the book, the lyrics, and the music for this musical, which takes the starving bohemian artists out of the Latin Quarter of Paris and into New York City's East Village during the height of the AIDS crisis. Larson's characters deal not just with impoverishment, not just with disease, but with homelessness, death, addiction, and love.
The night before Rent made its Off-Broadway debut in 1996, Larson suffered an aortic dissection, which is suspected to be the result of undiagnosed Marfan syndrome, and died. The show went on to critical applause and won a number of awards, including a Tony for Best Musical, and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It ran for twelve years before closing in 2008, and in 2005, it was made into a film featuring most of the original cast members.
Broadway in Wichita is producing Rent onstage at Century II from October 30th to November 1st.