Monday, September 8, 2008

No Longer For Rent

Rent closed yesterday. Strange.

Even stranger, I have never seen it. Not on Broadway, not on tour, not on film. I've never even listened to the full CD from end to end (though I know all the songs by now, lord knows.) I liked the idea of it when it was new, but once I got to hear more of the music, it didn't excite my very much. It just never seemed worth the money to see it live--especially as the play from all reports devolved into something highly overamplified, more a substandard rock concert than a theatrical experience. And based on reviews and what i've heard from friends, the movie is just a joke.

I have read the script, and honestly found it sort of dumb. Predictable story, characters without much depth, intensely romanticized and sentimental.

And yet I find myself wistful about Rent's closing. First off, I'm sure that it is much better onstage in a strong production than it is to read--not many  musicals read well. Second, even if it never connected to me, it connected to a lot of people in a way that few other musicals do. Even though the New York it portrays is long gone, and it is unquestionably a period piece, it still speaks to people. If you manage that, there's nothing wrong with a little sentimentality once in a while, right?

It won the Tony and the Pulitzer, and was on the cover of Newsweek. How many plays or musicals had been on the cover of Newsweek before? I'm pretty positive that none have been since. And, personal reaction to the show aside, that's something to celebrate.

There have been other smashes since, some that even covered the same territory as Rent, and better (Avenue Q, Spring Awakening), but none have had the same kind of cultural impact. Hopefully the end of Rent's era doesn't mean that nothing the same can ever come along again. That would be the real tragedy--and one that could be resolved by a convenient resurrection in time for the end of the show.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have seen RENT at the original New York Theatre Workshop venue, and after it had moved to Broadway. And I agree with your take on it 100 per cent! A few okay numbers, but really a bad book and mediocre music so loud I was in pain. I have never understood all the hoopla over it.

Zev Valancy said...

Here's the funny ting I forgot to mention in my post--I would really like to see it in a few weeks when it is broadcast in movie theatres. HOpefully it will be the best version of it. Plus, I'd get to see Northwestern alum Adam Kantor as Mark, and how fun is that?

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just the fact that I don't like musicals, but I found RENT to be annoying when my ex made me watch it. Granted, it was on DVD rather than on stage, so that could have had some influence, but it still just seemed to be more of a bunch of people whining about drug addictions, relationships and lack of money. Easy solution- stop taking drugs, use the money you spent on drugs to pay rent and fix yourself up. Of course, I'm a cynical person, so I have a biased opinion on these things. Maybe one day I'll see a musical that actually speaks to me, but all I know is RENT is not that show.

Mr. K said...

I knew Rent first through every goddamn music theatre geek singing "Seasons of Love". They always talked about Adam Larson's death as a tragedy. And I'm sure if the guy had lived longer that he would have written a great musical. But Rent...

I did see it live on Broadway back in 2000, at a time when the original Mimi was in the Rocky Horror revival which was competing with it. It was a fun show with a lot of energy and some darkness to it.

But now, with some distance, and as someone with a little more experience of the starving artist life, I can say that show feels dated and unrealistic. I mean, the solution to being a starving artist is an Andy Rooney, "let's put on a show, guys!". AIDS can be solved by the power of love?

Emily said...

It's difficult for me to step back and be really critical about RENT, because I was one of those people who memorized the sound track in 7th grade. It was because all of my friends were into it, but still, I loved it, and I'm still quite fond of it. Trying even if failing to put that aside, I honestly don't think that it sucks.

Wow, Adam Kantor is in it? That's pretty sweet. Anyway, you owe it to yourself and your cultural edification to at least see the thing all the way through.

Steve said...

I gained a greater appreciation for Rent after working on La Boheme. It really is a great adaptation and modernization of a beautiful opera. I saw Rent on Broadway back in 2001 and it made an impression on me as the first piece of musical theatre I had ever seen that was more than just fluff. So I suppose it holds a special place in my heart. The movie, however, sucked. As did the non-equity tour.

But I suppose that Rent is to La Boheme what 10 things I hate about you is to Taming of the Shrew. An interesting and timely adaptation that loses it's connection to modern life in the way the original doesn't.