The 1996 hit musical RENT stars an amazing cast, each with his/her own powerful voice. This musical, Jonathan Larson?s first produced show, has become one of the biggest things ever on Broadway. The concept of the show is nothing immaculate. RENT is a musical updating La Boheme and setting it in NYC?s East Village on Christmas Eve. In the opera, the Parisians are afflicted with tuberculosis. This plague was modified to today?s equivalent of the AIDS virus.
This rock musical has a majority of its cast ?living with, not dying from disease.? We start out learning of Roger Davis who is an ex-junkie and a struggling musician. ?His girlfriend April left a note saying ?we?ve got AIDS? before slitting her wrists in the bathroom.? His main drive is to write one last meaningful song before ?the virus takes hold.? He feels as if his life is a ?wasted opportunity,? since he once ?had the world at his feet,? but now all he has is death in his future.
We learn of a man returning to NYC named Tom Collins who ?struck gold at MIT,? but was ?expelled for [his] theory of actual reality.? It frustrates him that his computer age philosophy students ?would rather watch TV? and blames America for these values. Collins falls in love with a transvestite street dancer named Angel Shunard who ?gets a Band-Aid for his knee,? because someone had mugged him. They both have AIDS.
To contend with their affliction, they attend life support meetings, which are designed for ?people coping with life.? This group is especially helpful if the participant?s ?body provides a comfortable home for the acquired immune deficiency syndrome.? It is for those who are determined to live without fear. The group?s acclimation is: ?forget regret, for life is yours to miss.?
Another way to deal with having ?your own blood cells betray? is drug use. Mimi Marquez is a dancer at ?The Cat Scratch Club,? a junkie who is also infected with the AIDS virus. She holds great priority in ?feel[ing] good? from ?getting dizzy,? since her troubles are forgotten when she is high. Mimi wishes that she could ?find a bar so dark [she could] forget? how her life has been destroyed by being HIV positive and even further killed by using drugs.
This show has a handful of ?faggots, lezzies, dykes, cross dressers, too.? There is a lesbian couple consisting of Maureen Johnson, a ?drama queen,? and Joanne Jefferson, a public interest lawyer. They publicly kiss and have episodes leaving most of the audience feeling a bit uncomfortable. Maureen presents a performance piece against commercial development and in support of aid to the homeless titled ?leap of faith.?
There are those in the play who are not so sympathetic to the homeless. Benjamin Coffin III, a former roommate, married well enough to become the landlord of the building they all once lived in. He claims to a ?bum? to ?move over [and] get [his] ass of [a] Range Rover,? even though ?that attitude towards the homeless [was] just what Maureen? was protesting against. Even though there are characters, such as Angel and Collins who rescue a homeless woman from police harassment, the homeless are hardly grateful. They feel as if people are ?just trying to use [them] to kill [their] guilt,? but can you really blame them for the negative tone? Making it through the night, since ?it [was] beginning to snow,? and having enough money to eat are just two of the daily worries. They often realize that ?no one?s buying? their used goods, which makes them ?feel like crying.? Even though it is the holiday season they have ?no sleighbells, no Santa Claus, no yule log, no tinsel, no holly, no hearth, [and] no ?Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.?? These are all things that we have and take for granted. It makes you think what is really important at Christmastime.
Finally, we have Mark Cohen, Roger?s roommate, who carries around a video camera for practically the entire performance. He is the only person who is not a homosexual, a junkie, homeless, or living with AIDS. He wishes to produce a film recounting the events that occurred around him, so that the whole world could experience their magic. He achieves his goal at the end of the production, as the audience is able to experience what he had worked so hard to accomplish.
During the course of a year, people fall in and out of love, get physically and mentally injured, get scared and try to escape, question everything, and die. It is an amazing tragedy that somehow leaves the viewer with a greater sense and value of life. We learn that there is ?no day like today? and that to live a happy life we must accept that ?there?s only us [and] . . . only this.? In order not to miss out on life we must finally learn to ?open up to what [we] don?t know.? They do and understand the individual situations that are dealt to them. They have ?no other road [and] no other day? and they learn to be okay with their own lives.
The music grasps the viewer as electric guitars blare and drums are slammed. Whether the music be fast or slow, the placement of the characters on the stage is brilliant. Instead of being required to gaze directly at the center of the stage, the opposite is demanded of the spectator. One must look at the entire stage as a whole to not miss out on any of the action. The third song has the best choreography and vocal blending in the entire show, while giving the titles meaning saying ?everything is rent.? The power blows out while the music, which is played by a band that sits almost camouflaged in the scene, ?ignites the night with passionate fire.? The stage is completely covered by activity such as someone mugging Tom, Roger and Mark in rage, Ben rationalizing with his wife on a cellular phone, Joanne expressing how she is not a ?theatre person,? or Maureen turning to Mark for a technical problem. This is while they all verbally express their unique situations in a way that miraculously meshes. All in 4 min and 25 seconds.
Everyone in the audience leaves with a feeling of sympathy for the fact that Jon Larson never had the chance to bask in the success of his masterpiece. It had the type of success that a playwright ?hopes for in the middle of the night, and in the morning is embarrassed at how wild he?d let his fantasies run.? But here it happened. Unfortunately, he died the night after RENT?s first preview of an aortic aneurysm. He had almost reached his 36th birthday.
Once or twice in a lifetime you stumble across something that touches a part of you and leaves you forever changed. Jonathan Larson?s RENT has not only inspired and motivated me, but has done the same for others around the world. It reminds us all to cherish what we have and to find joy at even the most unhappy times. To those who have yet to experience the sheer power of RENT, do yourselves a favor and give it a chance, for I promise that you will not regret it. And for those who have, share his message and celebrate all the love in your life.