I went to see a Sunday matinee of Rent at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City today. I wanted to see it before Rent closes on September 7.
Rent was originally performed on Broadway in 1996. The music, lyrics, and book were all written by Jonathan Larson, a promising young composer. Unfortunately, Larson died shortly before the show's first off-Broadway performance.
I remember Rent being a huge hit during my freshman year in high school. My high school choir sang "Seasons of Love" for our Valentine's concert (as well as "Loveland" from Stephen Sondheim's Follies!) I also have some family friends (a few years younger than me) who are big fans.
Going into today's matinee, I had only previously seen the movie and listened to the movie soundtrack. I was pretty disappointed despite my great view from a front row center mezzanine seat. The sound was over-amplified and the energy level of the cast overall seemed low. The singing was subpar compared to the movie. I did like the actors who played Mark and Joanne.
It's interesting to think about why I got hooked onto this musical after seeing the movie. At the time (about three years ago), I related to the angst of feeling alone and helpless. Today, I felt the same, but I also appreciated the theme of relationships. A friend of mine told me recently: "Relationships are hard." I thought the song "Tango Maureen" was pretty funny especially when Joanne sings: "She cheated / She cheated / Maureen cheated / F**kin' cheated / I'm defeated / I should give up right now / Gotta look on the bright side / With all of your might / I'd fall for her still anyhow." Then later in the second act, Maureen and Joanne sing their spat duet "Take me or leave me," which is equally amusing.
However, it was bizarre to watch the actors create "bohemian" New York on stage. I couldn't relate to a bunch of HIV-positive people who are so poor that they burn scripts to heat their apartments. I simply don't have any friends with life-threatening chronic illnesses. As many people have pointed out, HIV is no longer a death sentence, so the musical is dated.
I haven't changed my mind about my favorite songs. The musical numbers that resonate most with me revolve around the theme of love/friendship/being alone: "Seasons of love," "Life support," "Will I?" Also, the songs "La vie voheme" and "Take me or leave me" are extremely fun and entertaining if you are in a sassy, rebellious mood.
I'm still glad I went to see Rent, though I wish it had been better. Maybe by putting together my live viewing today and the movie, I get a feel for the original Broadway cast, which everyone claims was fantastic. After 12 years on Broadway, Rent feels old and the producers have wisely made the decision to move on.