I remember the first time I saw Rent although the details surrounding the occasion are quite blurry; I was in New York in the late nineties and I believe I saw it with my brother. I have no idea why we were in Manhattan together but I must have convinced him that we had to see the new musical on Broadway and I must have assured him that it had nothing to do with opera. We sat in the balcony off to the far side because that's all we could get at the last minute.
Rent was, and still is, a very unique musical. It tells the story of a group of colorful characters living in New York's Alphabet City. Most of them are struggling artists and four of the main characters have AIDS. There are no dancing clocks, no sexy Egyptians, no one glides around on roller skates and a chandelier does not come crashing down at the end of the first act. Instead the audience is served a generous dish of reality addressing issues such as poverty, homelessness, drug abuse and of course, AIDS. Despite all these dreary subjects, the overall message of the play is hope, love, friendship and having no regrets about life. The title of the musical refers to the fact that nothing is permanent; we are given our lives for a short time so we had better make the best of them. There is no day but today.
In a strange twist of fate, the writer of the musical, Jonathan Larson, died the night before the off-Broadway premiere of Rent at the painfully young age of 35. Obviously his own life echoed everything he preached in his famous musical.
I had the chance to see Rent last night. Over the years I have seen it many times (I think eight or nine times?) and it was a great pleasure to sit down with the denizens of the Alphabet city once again. It was a special treat that the two main characters, Roger and Mark, were played by the original Broadway cast members. Although it was a touring production, the quality was very high and the audience was wildly enthusiastic, breaking into the fastest standing ovation I have ever seen for a Broadway musical.
For me, there were a few disappointments. The powerhouse lesbian song, Take Me or Leave Me (it sounds kinda funny to put it like that but that's exactly what it is)didn't quite have the energy it was supposed to have and neither of the women had strong enough voices to really pull this song off. The actor playing Tom Collins was a little shaky in his early singing but he redeemed himself with his signature song, I'll Cover You. On the plus side, Mimi played by Lexi Lawson rocked the house with one of my favorites, Out Tonight and Angel, played by Justin Johnston, was appropriately exuberant as the Christmas transvestite. The company song, Seasons of Love, was very well done and was worth the price of admission by itself.
It was a great night despite the fact that I was seated far, far away from the main stage. I had tried for front row tickets (the rush seats) but found out at the box office that these were only available to students and seniors. Bah-humbug.
If you haven't seen this musical, it is HIGHLY recommended. Do NOT see the movie and think that you have seen it. The movie is an embarrassment and should have been straight-to-trash DVD. Rosario Dawson playing Mimi is just one of the movie's many painful problems.
So go see Rent. It is still touring around the country and although it has left SoCal, I'm sure it will be back at some later date.
And remember ...
FORGET REGRET OR LIFE IS YOURS TO MISS!