Thursday, March 11, 2010


After almost two decades, I finally saw the musical RENT. I'm not sure how I could have missed it after all this time. Even though, like Angels in America, it will always evoke a specific time period time in America (the early 90s, when AIDS was a death sentence and we were all still reeling from Reagan and Bush Sr.), I can see how it spoke to so many people when it first appeared, and how its story (based on La Boheme), still resonates with young people/artists today, and probably always will.

The cast was, of course, professional and talented and excellent (four of my Boston Conservatory students were in the cast, and while I'm clearly biased, I feel like I'm being totally objective right now!)

The energy was absolutely electric, both on stage and in the audience. It seemed a shame that it only ran for five performances. For me, this was an act of catch-up: a chance to finally see something that I managed to avoid for so many years (I also, ironically, couldn't afford the luxury of purchasing a ticket to see RENT when it was all the rage in the 90s, and neither could any of my struggling actor friends, even though our avatars were populating the stage. So this was a musical that, to me, actually spoke to the generation AFTER us, the young offspring of the Baby Boomers, who could ask Mom and Dad to buy them a ticket so they could watch scrappy Generation X do drugs, have sex and succumb to all sorts of plagues, both literal and cultural).

But it still made me quite nostalgic for my youth, as these characters were all my age when this was happening (I graduated college in 1990), and while I was totally focused on something else at the time in the early '90s - in an effort to, literally, pay my rent - I didn't realize that I would see myself and my friends, years later, on stage, in RENT.

I guess my only problem with RENT came at the end of the story, as the character of Mimi, homeless and feverish and dying, is granted a new life and health quite suddenly and, to me, inexplicably. I really just wanted her to die. But I'm a morbid fucker.

It reminded me of something similar that occured at the end of the recent musical version of "Spring Awakening" (another piece that speaks to a current young American generation, even though it's based on a German play by Wedekind from the early 90s - 1890s, that is!) where at the end of all the grim teen-age carnage, the cast suddenly emerges and sings a song about purple rainbows, or something like that. So weird, like Edward Gorey suddenly doing a Wonder Woman spin and changing into Walt Disney!

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