"It was like I had lost a brother," Stewart said. "We were just like, this has got to be a mistake. I mean, he's 35 years old. He's at the pinnacle of his career. He's got this amazing show that's, you know, just amazing and wonderful and how can he not be here to enjoy the success?"
Tommasini said he hopes that his small role on the last day of Larson's life may have provided him with a glimpse of the huge success his show would become.
"[Larson's] father told me, the only hint Jonathan had in his life that that kind of success might come to him was that I showed up from the New York Times to interview him and I told him I that I liked his show," Tommasini said.
Larson's untimely death brought one of "Rent's" key phrases, "No Day but Today," vividly to life. Lyrics like "Dying in America at the end of the millennium, dying in America to come into our own," from the song "What You Own" suddenly echoed the fact that the man who had created this show would never know its meteoric rise.
"The message is so true," Tommasini said. "That people see themselves in these young characters would not carry at all if the music and words were not so good."
The success of "Rent" is little solace to Larson's father, Al Larson, who attended the show earlier this week.
"Wonderful as this has been, the show and everything that's gone on in connection with it, I'd still scrap it all for Jonathan being here," he said.
Larson said the entire family has been blown away by the musical's triumphs.
"Our hope was that it would have a nice off-Broadway run for a few months, and that would have made Jonathan delighted," Larson said. "Part of the tragedy of his not living is that God knows how many more great shows, great songs he would have written if he had lived."
Tonight won't be the last chance for fans to catch the show. A national tour with original cast members Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal kicks off in January, and a movie version of "Rent" that was filmed live on Broadway will be released in theaters nationwide later this month.
Rubin-Vega says "Rent" will be able to stand the test of time because of its innocence and enthusiasm about celebrating life.
"What I want people to take away from 'Rent' is far less [important] than what many people have already taken away from it, which is a complete inspiration to be who you are," she said. "I think that's as simple as it can get – to really celebrate, accept, and enjoy who you are, and to live in the moment."
Cast member Stewart said she has seen how the musical has affected audiences, and she shares that feeling.
"I met tons and tons of fans that just stand there and bawl and can't explain why," she said.
"I'm like, I understand," she said. "You don't have to say anything. I totally understand. I live with it eight times a week. It's a very moving piece and people will love it forever."