The Time: Christmas Eve. The place: New York City - an East Village industrial loft. Mark, a young filmmaker, sets up his camera. His roommate Roger, a songwriter and ex-junkie, struggles to pick out a song on his electric guitar. Mark trains the camera on Roger, taunting him about his songwriter's block (Tune Up #1).
The phone rings: On the answering machine, Mark's mother leaves her son a consoling, motherly message. Mark, who has just lost his girlfriend, Maureen, to another woman, screens the call (Voice Mail #1). The phone rings again: Collins, and old friend, is at a pay phone downstairs. Mark picks up, but the call is cut short - Collins is being mugged (Tune Up #2). The phone rings once more. Again Mark and Roger pick up, hoping it is Collins, only to find Benny, their wealthy former-roommate-turned landlord, on the line instead, demanding the rent. As if things couldn't get any worse, the electrical power blows.
Loudly, Mark and Roger rage (Rent). They burn their past - to keep warm - using Roger's rock and roll posters and Mark's screenplays for fuel. The past is not so easily wiped out, though; the phone rings yet again and this time it's Maureen calling, begging Mark for technical help with her performance piece scheduled for later that night in the vacant lot next door. Haplessly, he agrees.
Outside, a badly beaten Collins is discovered by Angel, a street musician, who offers bandages, comfort, and an invitation for a night on the town (You Okay Honey?). Their instant attraction becomes a bond with the realization that both are HIV-Positive.
In the loft, Mark also urges Roger to come out for the evening, but Roger refuses. Left alone, he stoically takes his AZT and dreams of writing one last song to redeem his empty life (Tune Up #3 / One Song Glory). He is interrupted by a beautiful stranger from downstairs, Mimi. Mimi needs a match, her electricity is down too (Light My Candle). She and Roger are instantly drawn to each other, but Roger resists. Mimi, he recognizes, is a junkie.
Elsewhere, Maureen and Joanne's answering machine receives a message from Joanne's parents, (Voice Mail #2), but she is not home to hear it.
At last, Mark returns with Collins, who brings provisions and - better yet - funds, in the person of Angel, now decked out in glorious drag. Angel explains how he has earned a fast $1,000 which he is eager to share (Today 4 U). Benny barges in with a deal: If Mark and Roger will stop Maureen's performance tonight protesting the clearing of a tent city from Benny's adjacent vacant lot, Benny will forgive Mark and Roger's back-rent(You'll See). Once Benny is gone, Mark, Angel and Collins head out for the evening, leaving Roger alone again.
In the lot, Mark gathers his courage to meet the formidable Joanne, Maureen's new lover, who has also usurped Mark's stage manager duties. When Joanne reluctantly accepts Mark's technical assistance, the two quickly find common ground in their shared experiences of the self-centered, unfaithful albeit irresistible Maureen (Tango: Maureen).
Angel and Collins attend an AIDS Support meeting; Mark arrives to document it on film. The group affirms its determination to live without fear; "no day but today" (Life Support). Meanwhile, in her apartment, Mimi is dressing to kill. Turning up again on Roger's doorstep, she implores him to take her out (Out Tonight). Roger is tempted, but his fear ultimately compels him to push Mimi away (Another Day). Simultaneously, a young support group member quietly asks, "Will I lose my dignity... Will someone care?" His questions are echoed by each member of the community, including Roger, who decides finally to leave his loft room in search of answers (Will I?).
In the lot, Mark, Angel and Collins rescue a homeless woman from police harassment (On the Street). The woman, however, is hardly grateful. Mark, Angel and Collins fantasize about leaving New York behind to live the good life, far away (Santa Fe). Mark goes to check on Roger, leaving Angel and Collins alone to declare their newfound love (I'll Cover You).
Joanne dials Maureen from a payphone, simultaneously juggling two other calls on her cell-phone (We're Okay). In St. Mark's Place, the homeless, sidewalk vendors, junkies, drug dealers, and cops comprise a human mosaic. Angel buys Collins an overcoat, Mark meets up with Roger, and Mimi hunts for a fix (Christmas Bells). Roger spots her, apologizes for his behavior in the loft, and invites her to dinner. She accepts.
Maureen arrives and presents her performance piece, a satirical protest that calls for a communal "leap of faith" against Benny's commercial development (Over the Moon).
Afterward, everyone meets at the Life Cafe, where they hear a gloating Benny declare that Bohemia is dead. Mark and his fellow bohemians joyously reject Benny's pronouncement (La Vie Boheme). Benny exits in anger, stopping only long enough to hound Mimi, who is, it would seem, a former lover. As her beeper sounds, Mimi pauses to take her AZT. Roger discovers that his secret and his illness are Mimi's also. Exhilarated and frightened, they resolve to assume the risk of romantic involvement as well (I Should Tell You).
Joanne has several times been ordered back to the lot by Maureen. Fed up, she finally rebels, announcing that their relationship is over. She also informs everyone that a riot has broken out on Avenue A (La Vie Boheme B). Benny has padlocked Mark and Roger's building and called the police. The bohemians continue to celebrate. The riot continues to rage. Roger and Mimi share a small, lovely kiss.
In the wake of the riot, the community pauses to ask, "How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?" The unqualified answer - "measure in love" (Seasons of Love).
New Year's Eve, Mark films a "breaking back into the building party" (Happy New Year). Mimi and Roger are there and in love. Maureen humbles herself to earn back Joanne's favor. The celebration is complete when Collins and Angel arrive with a blowtorch.
Once inside, Mark discovers a phone machine message left for him with a job offer from a tabloid television show hostess named Alexi Darling (Voice Mail #3). Benny crashes the party to ostentatiously apologize, offering the boys new keys to their old loft (Happy New Year B). Suspecting Benny's motives, Roger balks. Furious, Benny implies that Mimi helped change his mind by sleeping with him Mimi angrily denies this, but the damage is done; Roger is bitterly jealous. Mimi is cornered outside by her dealer with a little something to assure her "happy new year."
Valentine's Day. Roger is living with Mimi, but remains terribly jealous, often threatening to leave. Angel and Collins survive together wherever they can. Mark still lives behind his camera. At their apartment, a warring Joanne and Maureen issue each other an ultimatum (Take Me Or Leave Me). Neither backs down - they split up once again.
Spring. Everyone feels the coming changes. The community asks: "How do you measure a last year on earth?" (Seasons of Love B). Roger walks out on Mimi, accusing her of being unfaithful with Benny. Alone, Mimi mourns the impending loss of love, while Collins nurses the increasingly ill Angel (Without You). The end of Spring brings reconciliation for Roger and Mimi, as well as Maureen and Joanne, but all is tentative at best.
Summer's end, and Alexi is still calling, enticing Mark with big money (Voice Mail #4). Much lovemaking is witnessed, framed by attendant frustrations in the age of safe sex (Contact). By the fall, Roger, Mimi, Joanne and Maureen are all on the outs again. Collins and Angel's separation, however, is profound and final. Angel has died.
At Angel's memorial each friend offers a loving tribute. Clutching the overcoat Angel gave him at Christmas, Collins reaffirms his undying love (I'll Cover You (Reprise)). Outside the church, Mark phones Alexi and accepts her job offer, despondent at how drastically life has changed since that Christmas night just one year before (Halloween). As the mourners exit the church, Mimi learns that Roger is leaving town for good. A nasty scene ensues, with arguments erupting between all the estranged lovers. Collins, in sorrow, begs them all to stop. Maureen and Joanne are moved to try once again to reconcile. Mimi and Benny leave together.
Mark tries to convince Roger to stay in New York and confront his pain, but Roger lashes out, accusing Mark of also remaining detached, hiding behind his camera. Mark wonders whether Roger is simply afraid to watch Mimi die. Mimi appears and lets Roger off the hook, insisting that she has just come to say goodbye (Goodbye Love). Roger leaves for Santa Fe and Mimi begs Mark for help. Benny turns up and offers to pay for Mimi's drug rehabilitation but she refuses and instead runs away. When Benny covers the cost of Angel's funeral, he and Collins warm to each other and head off to get drunk as Mark prepares for his meeting with Alexi.
Mark questions the choice he is about to make and the world in which he lives. His thoughts are echoed by Roger on his way to Santa Fe (What You Own). They both remember the beauty of last Christmas Eve, when they felt connected, and their friends were a family. Roger begins to discover his song. Mark turns down the TV tabloid job to finish his film.
Roger, Mark, Mimi and Joanne's parents all wonder where their children are as the holidays approach (Voice Mail #5).
Another Christmas Eve. Mark has pieced together a rough cut of his film, which he hopes to screen tonight. Roger has moved back into the loft and has finished his song (Finale). No one has been able to find Mimi. The power blows again but the night is brightened by the arrival of Collins. Then Maureen and Joanne appear on the sidewalk below carrying a desperately ill Mimi.
Laid out in the loft, Mimi finally manages to tell Roger that she loves him. Begging her not to leave him, Roger sings his "one song" for her (Your Eyes). "I have always loved you," Roger whispers, then cries out her name as Mimi slips away.
Moments later, however, she returns, with stories of a warm white light and Angel steering her back to life (Finale B). Celebrating the wonder of life's terrible uncertainty, the community re-affirms love as the strongest force we know, acknowledging there is always, "No day but today."