Today marks the the 25th Anniversary of the opening performance of Rent Off-Broadway. A rock opera update of La Boheme, set in the late 1980s/early 1990s Village in New York City. Written by Jonathan Larson, the musical touched on the HIV/AIDS crisis, multiculturalism, addiction, homophobia, transphobia. It wrestled with the struggle between art and commerce. Essentially, it remains the quintessential Generation X musical.
And my college self was the perfect age to discover this show as it toured Austin just a few years later. This was a show for outcasts and we naturally were drawn to it.
The songs in Rent lift the show far beyond the every day musical. Songs like Seasons of Love and One Song Glory have become staples in musical theater circles. Even what would be considered smaller numbers like Life Support move the story forward and move the audience greater than many other classic show tunes. Larson's ability to heavy material lyrically is unmatched, as is his ability to use comedy in song.
Rent has received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical. Larson won the 1996 Best Book for a Musical and Best Score awards. The show has grossed $280 million through its various productions. With its twelve year run on Broadway it remains one of the longest running shows on Broadway.
Sadly, January 25, 1996 is remembered for another significant event in the production of Rent. Larson passed away that morning from an aortic dissection at the age of 35. He had been experiencing chest pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath for days before, but had been misdiagnosed as suffering from the flu or stress.
Larson's death left the cast and crew with an humbling query - how to proceed. It was decided that opening night would go forward, though with a staged reading. No costumes, no sets, just the actors performing their lines and singing the songs with the band. The staged reading lasted until the end of Act I, where the infectiousness of La Vie Boheme led cast members to jump on the tables, as the choreography would have normally required. The second act became much more of a performance.
After the performance finished and the actors returned backstage to take off their mics, they came back on stage to discover that the audience had not left. The 200 or so family and friends had remained in the theater in silence, waiting, wanting to continue the magic and the poignance of what they just witnessed.
Man, I miss live theater.
There does comes a point when you know you've reached an age where you can no longer identify with the characters in the show. The struggle against the hopelessness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic will always resonate, but, the fight to not pay rent, becomes a little grating.
I've crossed that line. Jamie and I saw another tour version of the show recently and while the music still connects, the storyline gets a bit aggravating.
I've still got most of the soundtrack memorized, though. That part will be forever etched in my brain and that music will continue to move me.
It will serve as a remind of how best to spend out time here on earth.
How do you measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
Think about it. 2020 had more than its share of problems and there are a lot of ways we measure it.
How about in love?
Measure in love.