17. The musical Rent takes place in Alphabet City
One of the most famous musicals of all time, Rent, takes place in Alphabet City amid the HIV/AIDS crisis. The musical tells of a group of impoverished artists hoping to make a life for themselves, taking inspiration from Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème. The neighborhood was chosen because of its starving artist culture but also in part because playwright Jonathan Larson lived in Alphabet City throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Many of the locations mentioned in the musical are real and still stand today, though not in their original form. Alphabet City also inspired the satirical location in Avenue Q, as well as “Alphabet Land” in Angels in America.
In the musical Rent, the characters live at the intersection of 11th Street and Avenue B. They would often frequent Life Cafe, which was located at 343 E 10th St. but went up for sale in 2012; the space is now a tattoo parlor. At the end of Act 1, the riot after Maureen’s performance took direct inspiration from the Tompkins Square Park Riot. The neighborhood’s LGBTQ advocacy groups such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP! also inspired the group support meetings in the musical. The 2005 film adaptation also includes scenes shot in Alphabet City and many shots in San Francisco.