One of my arbitrary rules for myself is that I don’t seek out Rent on purpose. This isn’t because I don’t like Rent, it’s because I love and obsess about Rent so completely that all other thoughts, interests and delights become moot.
Rent is perfect. Rent is a trashfire. Rent is a phenomenon. Rent is overrated. Rent was a revolution. Rent was a mainstream sanitizing of the queer experience by a straight white dude. The thing that’s infuriating, I think, to non Rent-heads, is that the show is all of these things at once. It’s a mess. But as was made abundantly clear if you were anywhere near social media Sunday night, Rent is our mess, and we’ve all got a lot to say about it.
For me, Rent: Live (which wound up being mostly the taped dress rehearsal due to Brennin Hunt breaking his foot the night before.) was just a reminder of something very visceral, this show tatooed itself on my heart when I was 15, and so I will love it forever. (Not without criticism. It isn’t Les Mis which I refuse to examine critically.) But there’s too much emotion tied into it for me to turn my back completely. There’s too many late night diner renditions of “La Vie Boheme,” with friends. (We were a delight!) Too many karaoke duets to “Take Me Or Leave Me,” and “Another Day.” To many doodled “No Day But Today”‘s scrawled in notebooks. To many hours spent arguing whether OBC Mark and Roger, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal were better than long time mainstays in the roles like Matt Caplan and Jeremy Kushnier. (I actually prefer Matt, who I’ve always called, “My Mark,” to Anthony, I saw Rent on Broadway 4 times, 3 of those, Matt was Mark. I prefer Adam to everyone though.)
There were plenty of moments in Sunday night’s broadcast that landed like a thud. When you know the show backwards and forwards, changes are jarring. Some of those really soared though. I’m madly in love with the ways, “Will I,” and “Seasons Of Love,” were redone. Especially “Seasons,” which is about remembering the good things in life in the face of imminent death, but has become a kind of treacly, feel good catch all out of context. Jordan Fisher’s Mark was adorable, Vanessa Hudgens continues to remind us all that Kenny Ortega did a really good job picking some top tier musical theater talent back in the day for High School Musical, and of course Brandon Victor Dixon brought the house down as Collins. (They were the MVPs, but also Keala Settle as the “Seasons” soloist and the rest of the cast was uniformly good.)
But the real kicker came with the finale. Finally moving into live mode, after the new cast sang through “Finale B,” (the overlapping of “Without You,” and “Life Support” reaching it’s breathtaking energetic conclusion with a projection of Jonathan Larson’s smiling face blessing the whole enterprise.) the chords of “Seasons Of Love” began anew, and the original Broadway cast ran onstage and my heart burst.
Even that raised my hackles in places. Idina sings the female solo? Why? (I know why! But seriously, world, she’s amazing and I love her, but we need to Let It Go!) Daphne and Fredi got to riff on the final, “measure your life,” but only Jesse got to sing out of the boys. (Mostly I’d like to see Adam and Anthony, but also Wilson and Taye!) (Also, though, Jesse and Brandon singing together should be illegal. Nothing that beautiful should exist.)
As I meditated on this beautiful, perfect, stupid, problematic mess, I realized, that the thing about Rent, and why theater nerd kids love it so much, is that it is us. It’s an unlikely creature, optimistic and nihilistic, heartbreaking and silly, and refusing to be tamped down and shut up. The universe doesn’t seem to want Rent but we don’t care. Jonathan Larson died before he could really finish it. The movie crackles with possibility despite iffy choices all around. Rent: Live almost didn’t happen because of a star injury. People continue to take it apart and say it’s dated, but it persists.
So, Thank You, Jonathan Larson. Your last breaths have given a couple of generations of kids a way to articulate something that’s inside of them and that’s really worthwhile.
The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation!