Wednesday, January 16, 2008
RENT has Lost its Lease...
I knew the day had to come sometime, but the New York Times is reporting today that my favorite Broadway show of all time - Rent - is closing on June 1.
This show spoke to me in a way that probably no other piece of entertainment in any medium ever had. See, as a poor college student I lived in a run-down tenement on 1st Avenue and 3rd St. in Manhattan at the time the play was written in the early 1990's, just a few blocks from where it's set, and I went through a lot of the real-life events that serve as the backdrop for it (including the squatter riots). Most of my friends - and myself too - were so similar to the characters in the show that I actually wondered after the first time I saw it whether I had ever known Jonathan Larson and forgotten. I knew, for example, an amateur filmmaker with spiky red hair that wore thick glasses and long scarves - just like Mark. The character of Mimi seemed to be an amalgam of two different people in my life - one of whom was a go-go dancer at Limelight and a heroin addict, the other a crazy filipino girl with whom I had a perpetually strained and weird relationship. And at that time, I was a sullen and surly leather jacket-wearing wannabe musician - just like Roger.
I connected with these characters and their stories because they seemed like they were ripped right out of my own life, and because by the time the show first hit the stage, it was already part of my past - that door had been shut on me, and not really by choice (that's a whole other story). That area of lower Manhattan had also changed pretty dramatically by 1996 as it began to gentrify. So seeing Rent the first time was like looking back with nostalgia on a bygone part of my life. I know that wasn't the intent of the show, and I know about its roots in La Boheme and its message about AIDS - but I'm sure Jonathan Larson would have been happy to see his show resonate with audiences in whatever way they personally felt, and that's how it resonated with me.
If you live in New York and you haven't seen it yet, go before it's too late. The cast is not the original cast, and some of the AIDS-related scenes might seem dated today, but the show is still incredibly emotional and, I'm here to tell you, realistic. Yes, people really lived like that in that place and at that time. I was one of them.
There is of course the film adaptation, but trust me when I tell you it's nowhere close to being as good as the stage version. It's better than nothing, and I had actually been planning to write up another post about it at some point, but it's not really Rent. There is too much missing, and too much glossed over. See the stage version if you can, while you can.