I am unabashedly in love with musical theatre. (Look! I spell theatre the pretentious old European way! I am an asshole.) I think it must have stemmed from my love of The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Annie and all those damn musical Disney movies (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The lion King etc.). But I didn’t understand how invested I was until I was nearly 17 years old. I got grounded for 2 weeks for double piercing my ears (do NOT get me started about how I was caught smoking at 17 and my only punishment was being sent to my room for 20 minutes. Ear Piercing, mom? Really?) My dad was on vacation and as punishment for my crime of PIERCING MY EARS (can you sense the bitterness?) he made me spend as much time with him as possible (how grateful am I now for this ‘punishment’? Answer: Infinitely). I wasn’t allowed to brood up in my room all hours of the day. I had to go grocery shopping with him and sit in the boat reading while he fished for what seemed like HOURS (probably because it was).
On the way home from one of these such boat trips, we stopped at a hole-in-the-wall video rental shop and my dad picked out a ton of old musicals for us to watch. Brigadoon, Singing in the Rain, and An American in Paris were among them (future post: I have accepted Gene Kelly as my personal Lord and Savior). After me putting on a huge succession of epic eye rolls we settled in to watch them that night. I was hooked. Sure a lot of it was hokey but oh my hell did you just see what that mofo did with his feet? Unnatural and beyond cool.
I loved musical movies but had never been to a big production of musical theater (OK I’ll stop with the ‘tre) until I was 18. It was Ms. Saigon and I was blown away. I cried through most of it. I felt like I had been missing a part of me my whole life and there it was up on that stage. Watching the performers sing so powerfully and so pure hit me in the same way you feel sucker punched in the spleen when you’re falling in love. From there I saw Kiss Me Kate, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Into the Woods, Mama Mia, Wicked and more.
After getting tickets to RENT for Christmas my senior year in high school, I bought the soundtrack in preparation for the play. I listened to it over and over, skipping the songs that really only make sense if you’ve seen it already (Over the Moon, etc.) Needless to say I was floored by this play. Not just the play but the idea behind it, it’s creation, the life-of-it’s-own-ness that it took on, the in-your-face/deal-with-this-already attitude towards Hiv/AIDS, the abrupt end to the shamelessly huge talent that is Jonathan Larson.
I saw it again 6 months later as a freshman in college and we got in under the student rush seats so we were right up front. I cannot do justice with words, how amazing that performance was. It was such a moment. A culmination of feelings that are created in yourself that you didn’t know you had. This play changed the way that I thought; it made me much more liberal-minded than I had previously been. I went to a high school where everybody knew the names of the African American kids because there was only 1 per class of 800 so it’s safe to assume I didn’t possess a huge scope of the world from my comfy spot in Midwestern Suburbia, USA. I’m pretty sure if my staunchly republican dad had known what those old movies stirred in me he would have skipped the video store all together. Maybe not, though. He was a folkster hippy once upon a time. I saw RENT a couple more times after that (I really can’t recall how many), loving it immensely but not to the degree of that second time.
As the years passed, I would put the soundtrack in from time to time, belting out along with it, but after awhile I honestly thought I outgrew this play. I saw the 2005 movie which I really liked and I would always list the play as my all time favorite but I wasn’t really tempted to go again when it came into the cities. That is until this:
See those two fellas up there? That’s Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp and they ARE Roger and Mark. These brilliant vocalists branded these two characters in such a way that, although it can be duplicated (and well, at that), it will always be theirs. They are doing a nation-wide tour and I couldn’t not go. I had never seen a production with original cast members and these guys are in their late 30s so I didn’t want to take the chance of this being their last go round (at least in our neck of the woods).
So, last Saturday I went to the Orpheum to experience RENT for the who-can-really-be-sure-teenth time. The whole Holy-Shit feeling came back to me as THE POWER BLOWS and stayed there for the entire performance. It was not anywhere near as high energy as previous performances I’d been to. These guys had their respective roles worn into a groove, you could tell most of what they did up on stage was second nature but oh my god their voices were so very awesome. It was like the CD was playing in the Orpheum and these guys were just lip syncing (of which I’m sure they weren’t since the freakin mics were acting up and at one point the sound went out.)
I am so grateful I got to experience RENT again as a real live grown up. The last time I’d seen it was before I had kids or had even gotten married. It still sucker punched me and made me think and evaluate what’s really important. What do human beings really NEED?
Love. Dignity. Hope. Recognition. Validation. Purpose. And of course, musical theatre.
- Homer’s version is pretty good, but doesn’t hold a candle to Anthony and Adam.