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Larson, Jonathan (1960-1996)    
 
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While still a student, Larson wrote an experimental musical titled Sacrimmoralinority, co-written with fellow student David Glenn Armstrong, which was first staged at Adelphi University in 1981. The show was later renamed Saved!--An Immoral Musical on the Moral Majority. Both Larson and Armstrong received awards for their work on the show in 1982 from The American Society of Composers, Author and Publishers (commonly known as ASCAP).

In 1982, Larson graduated from Adelphi with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting from the university's theater department. Upon graduating, he immediately moved to Manhattan and into a fifth-floor loft with no heat and a bathtub in the kitchen. He lived in this same space until his death in 1996, sharing the loft with a variety of roommates over the years.

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He supported himself financially as a waiter in the evenings at the Moondance Diner, in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, while composing music on an electric keyboard in his apartment during the day.

Between 1983 and 1990, Larson worked on a futuristic rock opera titled Superbia (a Latin term for the deadly sin of "pride"). The work began as a retelling of the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the Orwell estate denied him permission to adapt it. Larson revised the story, but the work remained a dark, dystopian vision of the future.

Superbia was given a workshop at New York's Playwrights Horizon and a rock concert version was performed at the Village Gate in 1989. Larson also received a Richard Rogers Development Grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his musical.

Although several influential people in the musical theater world were impressed with Larson's efforts, the show was deemed too big in scope and too angry in tone. Consequently, Larson was unsuccessful in finding producers interested in giving the work a full-scale production, which disappointed him greatly.

During the years he worked on Superbia, several friends of Larson's succumbed to the AIDS epidemic. When one of his friends from high school, Matthew O'Grady, with whom Larson remained close, learned he was HIV-positive, Larson was the first friend he told.

Through O'Grady, Larson got involved with Friends in Deed, an organization dedicated to providing emotional and spiritual support to anyone with HIV/AIDS or other life-threatening illnesses. As O'Grady explained in an interview after Larson's death, "Jonathan came with me to meetings and held my hand. He went through this with me."

Larson next worked on a smaller, and, he hoped, less expensive show to produce, which he variously titled Boho Days, 30/90, and finally Tick, tick … BOOM! It is an angry, intense, and self-referential solo show about a man named Jon, an aspiring composer of musical theater, who wakes up on his 30th birthday and complains, in song, about his frustrated ambitions and the perilous times in which he lives, among other things. Toward the end of the show, Jon learns that his best friend is HIV-positive.

The show is dedicated to Larson's friend Matthew O'Grady.

Larson performed the solo show himself in his agent's office for various producers and backers in May 1990, and later took it to the Village Gate for a limited engagement, but the show never received a full theatrical production in Larson's lifetime.

Over a decade later, however, with the help of playwright David Auburn and musical director Stephen Oremus, Larson's 45-minute monologue was turned into a one-act play for three characters--Jon, his girlfriend Susan, and his best friend Michael, who discovers he has AIDS.

The show opened Off-Broadway in 2001, starring the bisexual actor Raúl Esparza as Jon. It received the 2001 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical. Larson himself was nominated posthumously for the 2002 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Book, Music, and Lyrics.

Many friends remarked how working on Tick, tick … BOOM! had changed Larson's attitude and outlook toward his art. He had been able to express his anger and frustrations in the solo show and could now move forward, toward a more peaceful and accepting perspective.

"Somehow Jonathan found the nerve to keep working in the diner, to be true to his art, to realize that life was to be lived a day at a time," the documentary filmmaker Edward Rosenstein, a friend of Larson's, noted. "How could he kvetch about his struggles when friends were dying?"

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