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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jeanne Hopkins flew all the way from California to line up to put her name in a lottery for a $20 ticket to see one of the last Broadway performances of the hit musical "Rent," which closes on Sunday after 12 years.
The award-winning 1996 musical chronicles the struggles of a group of young artists in New York and was groundbreaking in bringing topics such as AIDS into the mainstream.
"I came specifically to New York to see this," said Hopkins, 52. "I know nobody in New York City so these people are my friends. I came to say goodbye to them."
"Every time I come to New York I see it," Hopkins said on Thursday, adding that she plans to name her next dog Mimi after a character in the show.
"Rent" was the first Broadway show to start the practice of selling same-day orchestra seats for $20 in a lottery that allowed die-hard fans, dubbed "Rentheads" in the theater world, to come back again and again.
Set in New York's East Village in the late 1980s and conceived as a modern-day version of Giacomo Puccini's opera "La Boheme," "Rent" is a story about relationships between friends living a bohemian life under the shadow of AIDS.
Rodney Fullmer, a 26-year-old medical student from Chicago, said he and his girlfriend had seen the show six or seven times and he was lining up for one more chance.
"It's so real, so many people can relate to it," Fullmer said. "AIDS is still a real thing, in New York alone its rates are sky-rocketing, so it's a message anybody can relate to.
"It's one more way to get people to realize how bad it really is," he said. "Everybody knows at least one person affected by AIDS."
After the final performance on Sunday night, "Rent" will have played 5,124 performances and 16 previews, making it the seventh longest running show in Broadway history.
It grossed over $280 million on Broadway, was taken on tour across the United States and has been performed as far afield as Australia, Hong Kong, Russia, South Africa and Brazil.
A New York Times review in 1996 described the show as an "exhilarating, landmark rock opera" and a "generational anthem" that recalled the impact made by the 1960s musical "Hair."
"Rent" won a raft of awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tony Awards. Its success was made more poignant by the death of writer Jonathan Larson, who died of a heart aneurysm at the age of 35 days before the Broadway opening.
Albert Irizarry, a 31-year-old teacher who lives in Queens, New York, said "Rent" was the first Broadway show he saw.
"It reminded me a lot of just living in the city, getting to know other people. I've lived in the city and Queens for a long time and I guess it's like a reality-fantasy," he said.
Producer Jeffrey Seller said he never expected the show to last so long on Broadway.
"Many people were thinking the show will fail because the audience that's interested in this doesn't go to Broadway," he told Reuters. "If someone would have said it would last five years, I would have said 'Wouldn't that be great."'
He said a 2005 movie version of "Rent" had helped ticket sales, even though it was not a huge hit on screen. "It probably gave us at least another year on Broadway that we wouldn't have had," he said.
By the time producers announced in January the show would close, ticket sales had fallen to around 50 percent capacity.
"There's a point in a show's life where you're done," Seller said. "You know why it ends now? Price. Because the show can no longer sustain $50, $80, $100 seats."
Editing by Philip Barbara