Quote of the week:

“They'd have to shoot me to get me back to Illnois."

~Abraham Lincoln upon going to WDC to become president

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No Day But Today...

Had I not wanted to headline this with a quote from the show, the alternate headline of this would be another song, “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy”. It was announced today
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/theater/16broad.html that the Broadway show RENT will close June 1, after 12 years, with the distinction of being the 7th longest running Broadway show in history. It’s like hearing that a good friend has just been given a terminal diagnosis. Overly dramatic? Perhaps. But not so much hyperbole as you suspect. This play, its music, its story has resonated with me (and millions of others). I had the great fortune of seeing RENT on Broadway, with the original cast in December of 1996. My friend Eric, who used to be an actor in NYC, was good friends with the Stage Manager, so he contacted her on my behalf so my best friend and I were able to get tickets (and house seats at that) to the hottest show on the Big White Way. Serendipitously enough, I just downloaded the Original Broadway Cast Recording (OBCR) and the movie soundtrack on my mp3, and have been listening to them the past two days. [side note, OCR & Soundtrack are NOT synonyms. Music from a stage performance is NOT a soundtrack. Soundtracks are from movies or tv.]

In addition to Broadway, I’ve seen a touring company production three times in Chicago. If I lived in NYC, I’d be a “RENThead”.

RENT, written by Jonathan Larson is based on the Puccini opera “La Boheme”. It was autobiographical about his life in NYC and his friends, and neighborhoods. It’s not only the show, but the circumstances surrounding the show that helped make its impact so powerful and poignant. The night of the final dress rehearsal, two and a half weeks before it opened on Broadway, the composer & librettist, Jonathan Larson died of an aortic aneurysm. He had been to the E R 2 or 3 times and was sent back home told it was ‘nothing’. Jonathan was the epitome of the ‘starving artist’. He had finally quit his waiter job, because he was actually going to ‘make it’ on Broadway. His show was being produced.

Larson gave voice to those of us post-Viet Nam, the last of the baby boomers and first of the Gen Xers. He gave voice to persons with AIDS. I think the fact that he was a heterosexual man, helped give credence to that voice who’s screaming had fallen on deaf ears during the Regan and Bush the 1st era(s). He died on the cusp of his greatness. He didn’t live to see his dream, and to see how much his work would affect millions of us.
His lesser known (only) other work, produced off Broadway a few years after RENT’s success is “tick, tick...BOOM!”. It was about him turning 30, and trying to determine whether he should give up the dream and get a 9-5, or keep plugging along. Larson was less than one year older than I. While I didn’t live out the same struggling artist life that he did, I lived my version of it. I tried to make it on my own, starting my own business. After three years, it was apparent that while on paper I was ‘in the black’, in reality I was ‘in the red’. I had to trade my dream for a different 9-5. It too has some great music, there is an OCR of it. Get it and listen to it. Especially “Cages or Wings” and “Louder than Words”.

“To faggots, lezzies, dykes, crossdressers too.
To you, to you, to you and you and you and you and YOU.
To people living with, living with, not dying from disease.
Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn.
La Vie Bohème…
…The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”

The curtain may close, but your music lives on forever Jonathan. Thanks for giving voice for over 12 great years. Viva La Vie Bohème, indeed.

rle/wtf ©


Ben said...

You know, my group has been doing Seasons of Love for over three years now, and I still have yet to see Rent (or ven familiarize myself with what it's about). Good song though...

gay CME guy said...

The story is a modern day La Boheme, set in NYC, in the late
90s. Gays/ bisexuals, injection drug users, HIV+, homeless people, death, dysfunction, relationships ending. --You know, your basic light-hearted comedy. ;)

When I was in NYC last summer, I saw "Spring Awakening", the night after it won all the Tony's. It was one of the most incredble theatre experiences I've ever witnessed, due to the timing of being there right after the big wins. I remember thinking to myself, "I wonder if this will replace RENT as the younger adult show. Upon coming home, I was talking about see it with one of my neighbors. She's in her mid-late 20s (around your age). I told her, "It's the RENT of your generation." She argued with me that RENT was her generation too. Afterwards, I thought it was funny (and great) that we were arguing over whom RENT 'belonged to', and how that spoke to the timeliness, and timelessness of the show and its message.
Playbill magazine produces an annual 'yearbook' of the previous Broadway season. Each show has a 'scrapbook' page with a member of the company writing about behind the scenes types of things, answering a sort of "Proust Questionnaire". (I know, I really am a homo theatre geek). One of the questions is 'Coolest thing about being in the show'. The respondent/actor from RENT wrote (in part), "The show's message...it has been very rewarding to have the opportunity to remind people to live in the moment and to help teach tolerance and love..."

I think you, like me, find meaning in the lyrics as well as the music. (What's the 'foodie' equivilent for a music afficionado?--a musickie?) If you've never listened to the OBCR, you should. If you want to hear it, let me know. Or, rent (no pun intended) the movie. This movie was a good adaptation of the play. It got panned while people are still going orgasmic over that piece of shit Sweeney Todd. (sorry, I digress) But, the OBCR is better, and more complete, musically.