A young man with dark hair wearing a blue jacket over a black t-shirt smiles as he stands by a poster promoting a theatre workshop.
Jonathan Larson '82, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/composer of Broadway's RENT.

A $1 million bequest initiated in 2011 by the Larson Family Trust came to fruition in 2022, memorializing Jonathan Larson ’82, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and composer of the Broadway musical RENT.

The University’s gratitude is reflected in its act of matching the bequest with an additional $1 million. The $2 million Jonathan Larson Scholarship endowment will support four annual scholarships for students who study theater at Adelphi. 

Larson, who majored in acting at Adelphi, passed away in 1996 on the day of RENT’s off-Broadway premiere, 10 days shy of his 36th birthday. He would never know the acclaim he ultimately achieved, but his family remained dedicated to preserving his legacy.

An enduring Adelphi legacy

“He came in like a spark plug,” said Nicholas Petron, MA ’70, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre. Petron met Larson when he auditioned for a spot in the performing arts department. “He went right to the piano—and this was an acting audition,” Petron said.

Following Larson’s death, his parents, Allan and Nanette Larson, maintained their connection to Adelphi and friendships with their son’s professors. Nanette died in 2018 and Allan in December 2021. In August 2022, Julie Larson McCollum, Jonathan’s sister and trustee of the Larson Family Trust, finalized the family’s commitment to establishing the endowed Jonathan Larson Scholarship.

Along with gifted students earning Larson scholarships, his legacy here continues in many ways. Since 2015, the next generation of musical theater creators is celebrated each year during the Larson Legacy Concert Series at the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center. It features performances by recipients of Jonathan Larson Grants from the American Theatre Wing. Many have gone on to Broadway stardom, like Michael R. Jackson, who won a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award in 2021 for A Strange Loop. 

Today, students who walk the halls of the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center pass by the bench from the Lower East Side restaurant where Larson often wrote. And in Petron’s office is Larson’s director’s chair, used while he wrote RENT. Eventually, it will move to the Smithsonian with other objects and manuscripts from Larson’s life—for now, it reminds Adelphi’s aspiring performing artists and creators of their great potential for success.

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