If there are any confused readers stumbling about, scratching their heads befuddledly and looking for recipes, this is my own personal catharsis post. Scroll down for normal food rambling…but if you have a heart, keep reading.
By the time you read this, Rent will have played its very final show on Broadway. I am in a strange position to comment on this, as in a way, having never been to New York, I’m mourning the loss of something I’ve never had, and now never will have. Before you make a hasty exit because I’m wallowing in mawkishness – well, maybe I am – please watch “Seasons of Love”, taken from the tenth anniversary in 2006, where the entire original Broadway cast reunited for a one-off performance. This song is the heart of Rent, and it’s incidentally the song that people who hate Rent seem to like, so everybody wins… It is also one of the most beautiful things ever written. The sound and visuals aren’t the best but the message comes through, and what a message: measure your life in love.
I first came to know Rent through the DVD of the film adaptation. It is particularly special in that six of the eight original Broadway cast reprise their roles for it and it caught my eye because of Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs, who originated roles in another favourite musical of mine, The Wild Party. As soon as I heard those harmonies in “Seasons of Love”…and the driving sound of the drums at the start of the title song…I knew it would change my life. Sounds overwrought, I know. Even while I was watching it my mind was trying to come to grips with whether it was monstrously cheesy or utterly, heartbreakingly brilliant. Funnily enough, the pendulum swung towards the latter. And so I am forever thankful that this film exists. In spite of its debatable flaws – not enough Taye, the most haunting part of “Goodbye Love” cut, no New Year sequence and surely I can’t be the only one with an entire screenplay of “Christmas Bells” in my head – it is a gift in particular to people outside America who have had no chance to see it at the Nederlander theatre in New York. And there is no real way of explaining what it’s like to see Idina sing “Over The Moon,” in all its wide-eyed, ferocious, doofy glory for the first time.
You don’t need me to give you a full-on history of Rent. If you’ve already decided that you hate it then you won’t want to know, if you are vaguely intrigued then you’ll hit wikipedia and if you’re anything like me you know it all already. So rather than tell you about it, I’ll let Rent speak for itself. Some of the most intriguing, clever…stick-in-your-brain, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that lyrics I’ve ever heard come from this musical. And, frankly, a few of the clunkiest (although I love that the character of Benny gets to rhyme “seductive” with “counterproductive.”) Here is but a bare smattering of phrases, snatches of sentences, reasons why Rent sticks with me like a lump in my throat.
“How can you connect in an age where strangers, landlords, lovers, your own bloodcells betray?”
“Christmas bells are ringing, somewhere else – not here”
“No day but today”
“Will I lose my dignity?”
“Live in my house, I’ll be your shelter…be my lover, I’ll cover you”
“Follow the man, follow the man, with his pockets full of the jam”
“Once you donate you can go celebrate in Tuckahoe”
“The only way out is up…a leap of faith”
“This is Calcutta – Bohemia is dead.”
“To fruits, to no absolutes to Absolut, to choice, to the Village Voice”
“To being an us for once, instead of a them – la vie boheme”
“Hey mister, she’s my sister”
“German wine, turpentine, Gurtrude Stein, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Kurosawa – Carmina Burana!”
“And Roger will attempt to write a bittersweet evocative song…that doesn’t remind us of Musetta’s Waltz.”
“Life’s too short babe, time is flying, I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine…”
“To people living with living with living with not dying from disease”
“The opposite of war isn’t peace…it’s creation.”
“Take me for what I am”
“Without you, the ground thaws, the rain falls, the grass grows…”
“Marky, sell us your soul! Just kidding!”
“That’s poetic…that’s pathetic.”
“Just came to say, goodbye love…hello disease”
“I don’t own emotion, I rent…”
“We’ll somehow get to Santa Fe, but you’d miss New York before you could unpack”
“There’s only us, there’s only this, forget regret, or life is yours to miss, no other road, no other way, no day but today.“
Jonathan Larson, the creator and writer of Rent, died of an aortic aneurysm the night before the show’s first off-Broadway preview. He would never see it win Tony awards, the Pulitzer prize, Drama Desks…he would never see his original cast flourish in their further careers, never see his show become the 7th longest running Broadway musical, never have a hand in creating the film adaptation. And he would never be able to write such lyrics as those that I reproduced above. Which makes so much of Rent all the more heart-wrenching to absorb. When AIDS-afflicted Roger sings of his desire to write “one song, before I go,” when Mimi says “you don’t want baggage without lifetime guarantees,” it becomes so much more than mere storyline. Of all the lyrics, “no day but today” I think is particularly brilliant – a consise improvement on that old cliche, “live every day like it’s your last.”
Sharp-eyed readers will know of course that this very blog takes its name from the title song from Rent. “We’re hungry and frozen, some life that we’ve chosen…” Rent is unfinished, raw, imperfect…perfect.
I’m going to wrap up here otherwise I’ll ramble on ad infinitum. Okay, I’ve never actually been to the Nederlander to see Rent. But put yourself in my position: I’m from New Zealand. I’m never ever going to be able to see it. I’ll never get to have a photo of myself beside that famous wall. I’ll never be able to try for the cheap seat lottery. I guess I just thought it would wait for me forever… And despite not being a part of the generation of Rentheads from the mid-nineties – well how could I have been – my love for this show is so fierce that I just had to write something, and be it self-indulgent or incoherent, its my version of closure.
I felt more empty today than anything else, especially when, sometime this afternoon I realised that the show would be winding up in New York. And then I saw this video of the final curtain call, and…the floodgates opened. I embraced my inner Mary Anne Spier and wept. The look on Tracie’s face, Gwen’s final high note, Anthony’s claps up to Jonathan, Wilson and Jesse standing together, Eden singing her heart out…I kid you not, it really made me cry. If you’re not a fan it probably won’t mean so much to you, but if you are, tread softly and carry a big hanky.
Thank you, Jonathan Larson.