RENT Returns to Off-Broadway: No Day But Today To Psychoanalyze Our Queer Attachment to RENT

RENT:

The Broadway show closed in 2008 but when one of the original producers caught the Neil Patrick Harris-directed and celeb-studded 1-off Los Angeles performance last summer, it lit a fire under his ass to make some magic again. The LA cast included Vanessa Hudgens, Wayne Brady and Tracie Thoms.

SO WE ARE VERY EXCITED THAT THEY ARE reviving RENT Off Broadway in 2011! Word on the street is there will be an entirely new cast filling the very big shoes of Mark (Anthony Rapp), Roger (Adam Pascal), Maureen (Idina Menzel), Collins (Jesse L. Martin) etc., and the freshly-produced version will open in June 2011, after the Tony awards.

For the uninitiated, RENT was groundbreaking when it opened in 1994 for representing a group of friends, gay & straight, falling in and out of love despite race (and HIV status). It changed my life when I saw it. Riese has feelings about it too–

Riese’s Special Comment: It’s crazy to think that something that premiered in the mid-90s — when we grew up — is now almost a “period piece.” I was obsessed with the soundtrack in early high school, saw the touring company in Detroit in 1998 and saw it on Broadway in New York in 2001 and again in 2006. I saw the movie the weekend it came out (live show = so much better), and often wile away the twilight hours watching RENT videos on YouTube. Seriously.

I remember providing a sassy/smug teachable moment last year to a teenager who was confused why “AIDS was such a big deal” in the musical. She complained that RENT just seemed like “a bunch of spoiled kids whining about art and taking themselves too seriously.” The latter I could only explain with “it was a different time,” and the former made me want to bash my head into the undoubtedly primordial history textbook she’d read in Social Studies. CHILD, an ENTIRE GENERATION of gay men in New York City was almost COMPLETELY WIPED OUT by AIDS and it changed our entire world/culture dramatically in a very short period of time, particularly w/r/t sex culture and gay activism. In 1995, a year before RENT debuted, the CDC announced that AIDS was the leading cause of death among all Americans aged 25 to 44.

RENT’s narrative core is the romantic/heartbreaking tragedy of “living with living with not dying from disease.” But it’s also about a generational discontent that some apparently view as “a bunch of spoiled kids whining about art.” As a 15-year-old attending a boarding school for the arts during the mid-90s, I didn’t see spoiled kids whining about art. I saw my future: a self-selected post-racial queer utopia comprised of hilarious gay boys, damaged drug addicts, political performance artists and striving, dreamy, self-obsessed emo boys with Kurt Cobain theatrics and Angela Chase brains. In RENT, the lesbian couple (Joanne & Maureen) was so undeniably sexy in a way I’d never seen gay women portrayed before.

Take Me Or Leave Me, from the 2005 movie:

Prevention, awareness and medical advancements have fortunately made life with HIV radically different than it was in the 90’s. That’s obvious. The other major shift is an economic one: RENT takes place during an economic boom-time and now there’s a recession in which kids are supposed to make “sensible choices” and stop romanticizing the “need to express, to communicate” over things like electricity and shelter. What’s wrong with Scarsdale, really, if Dear Old Mom and Dad have a futon in the basement and food in the refrigerator? It seems positively rich that Mark can choose if he wants to “sell out” or not — these days, selling out is an artist’s only hope of making a living.

Now, having left New York City for San Francisco after six years there, Santa Fe resonates in a way I wouldn’t have expected when I was 15.

It’s a comfort to know, when you’re singing the hit-the-road blues
That anyplace you could possibly go after New York would be a pleasure cruise…

We’ll pack up all our junk and fly so far away
Devote ourselves to projects that sell
We’ll open up a restaurant in Santa Fe
Forget this cold Bohemian hell…

But RENT remains relevant despite societal changes — the mid-90’s WERE a time when we could afford to damn the man in pursuit of truth/art and we desperately need a new generation of strivers who believe doggedly that truth/art is actually more important than a 401K, though no reasonable adult would ever tell them that.

Also, the music is pretty f*cking awesome. There’s not a dud on the entire album.

The best part of RENT, however, is its intense, compassionate, hopeful tenderness. And fifteen years later, it still resonates: it’s a show about growing up and moving away and taking risks and making a new family out of your friends and loving them above all else. And what kid — especially a queer kid — can’t relate to that.

GLEE:

Ryan Murphy is starting to dish on what’s up with Kurt & Blaine (Darren Criss). He still isn’t sure whether Blaine will become Kurt’s boyfriend or just act as his mentor, and reveals that the anti-bullying storyline will span the entire season and will affect additional characters.  (@afterelton) Chris Colfer also referred to Kurt’s social relevancy when chatting with Entertainment Weekly:

“With all due respect to my castmates, they don’t get the letters like I get – the letters that not only say ‘I’m your biggest fan,’ but also, ‘Kurt saved my life.’ and ‘Kurt doesn’t make me feel alone’ from 7 year olds in Nebraska. When I was growing up, there wasn’t a character like this. I think what makes Kurt so special is he’s finding himself in front of our eyes.”

In other news, check out video of the scandalous, ought-to-be-illegal GQ photoshoot starring Lea Michele, Dianna Agron and whatshisface.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT:

Lisa Cholodenko, her partner and their son are featured in W Magazine’s Family Values issue. Her experience starting a family inspired The Kids Are All Right, which is getting serious Oscar buzz this time of year. (@wmagazine)

QUEEN LATIFAH:

Still no #ItGetsBetter video, but she did give her two cents regarding the role the parents play in the world of bullying:

“I think a lot of times kids who are bullies get away with it because no one confronts their parents. Parents have to step (up) to other parents and say, ‘Listen, your son or daughter is texting my son or daughter, or emailing, or tweeting, or Facebook-ing or talking about my child or pressuring them in some sort of way. They’ve gotta step in for these kids… We’ve gotta fight for our kids. It’s a shame… No child should have to lose their life through a senseless killing and that’s really just the saddest thing of all. No parent should have to be on TV explaining that.”

She also reveals she was picked on at school because she had big breasts:

“Later, I found that having big breasts was a really good thing, and people were paying for this.”

(@dailyexpressuk)

PINK:

Making of Pink‘s “Raise Your Glass” video:

Profile photo of Riese

Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1764 articles for us.

49 Comments

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    RENT needs its own article, can’t mix in Riese’s amazing commentary with things like Glee and potentially closeted celebrities.
    it took me a minute to realize why i felt so strongly about this. oh yeah, it’s because RENT made me realize I was gay.

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    “As a 15-year-old attending a boarding school for the arts during the mid-90s, I didn’t see spoiled kids whining about art. I saw my future: a self-selected post-racial queer utopia comprised of hilarious gay boys, damaged drug addicts, political performance artists and striving, dreamy, self-obsessed emo boys with Kurt Cobain theatrics and Angela Chase brains.”

    this, i love this.
    sometimes sensible choices aren’t sensible in order for you to live, to really live and not just glide

    i went to an arts school too, and i know so many people who, even though they had roofs and showers and electricity and other things not to be taken lightly, would not have made it if they were forced to go to a “regular” high school and just accept the fact that they were lucky to go to school at all,

    does that make sense?

    anyway, i am so happy to RENT back on the stage. there is a reason this musical is so powerful and it deserves to be seen.

    [one comment, though: maybe this isn't how you intended it to be read, but i just wanted to clarify that Jonathan Larson died of Marfan Syndrome, not AIDS. he didn't actually have AIDS, but did see it take many of his friends' lives.]

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      You thought so? I thought the casting on Joanne was about the worst casting I’ve ever seen, for anything, ever. Seriously. And because of that there were a few moments when I stopped for a moment and cursed the fact she was trying to make Joanne the star of the show, but… for all the skepticism I went it with, I came out glad I saw it. Almost as in love with the musical as I did walking out of the theatre on Broadway.

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          i hate the movie version of ‘take me or leave me’ because it seems so weird and out of place in that strange like ‘brunch at the yale club’ environment. but i really think i guess that most of the movie is inferior to the broadway show in 45 ways

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    RENT, holy fuck. I only discovered it when I was 22, in the May before I went to be a stage manager/camp counsellor at muscial theatre camp. BEST TIMING EVER. I got to spend the summer dancing/singing/crying to myself over it with a bunch of kids who loved this shit just enough, and then I got to see it on Broadway just before it closed. I can still remember the moment I got my ticket; I actually couldn’t believe it was happening. Tracie Thoms can take me ANY DAY. See also: Cold Case.

    Hold on, though. “In 1995, a year before RENT debuted, the CDC announced that AIDS was the leading cause of death among all Americans aged 25 to 44. Jonathan Larson, RENT’s creator, died the night before his show premiered.” Yes but he didn’t die of AIDS, you know that right? He had an aortic aneurysm due to a genetic condition (Marfan’s). His death, while tragic and a big catalyst for the show’s unexpected cult appeal, was unrelated to HIV/AIDS. Okay cool.

    P.S. Play the opening of Seasons of Love and I will cry, always. RENT changed my life. /theatrekid

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    I had never heard of Rent until yesterday since there were some people handing out pins for a student production of it (and didn’t have a clue of what it was about till just now!). Now I must watch it! I feel like I missed out on so many things growing up in Chile :(

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    God, I was beyond obsessed with RENT in late middle/early high school. It was literally the ONLY example of a lesbian couple I had ever seen, in art or in life, and I was like, ‘Holy fuck, yes. This is an existing, definable thing. This is what I am.’ I later used the Maureen/Joanne template to try to explain to myself what the fuck was going on with me and my best friend. The show will always hold a very dear place in my heart.

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    I discovered RENT when I was 15, about 6 months before the movie came out. I heard Would You Light My Candle? in my girlfriend’s basement. She didn’t know much about it except it was from a musical called RENT. I immediately looked it up and downloaded the crappiest bootleg ever from Kazaa, or something. I don’t want to say I watched it everyday, but it was a lot. We saw the movie twice in theaters, more out of attachment than anything [we only really paid attention the once.] Saw the off broadway tour in St Louis for my 16th birthday and Kansas City the year after. And when we found out it was going to close, we flew to New York, stayed for a day, and flew back just so we could see RENT. It was amazing–UH-MAY-ZING.

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    I think the first time I heard about RENT was when I watched the GLAAD Media Awards and the movie had been nominated for something. I never saw it live though I did meet Anthony Rapp once when he was promoting his memoir. Go read it.

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    I can’t find the words to describe how I feel about RENT. It was my very first theatrical love. It was there in a time when I desperately needed a community of people to support me. For me, it symbolized the queer utopia I would one day find.

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    I’ve been hearing rumors of an off-Broadway revival for some time now, and I’m thrilled. I feel like Rent is such an important show, and when it closed, it made me sad that this generation of teenagers would not have the same amazing experience with it as I did. Rent was seriously a life changing show for me when I first heard about it in middle school. I’m glad it will be back on stage in New York; the movie is just not the same as seeing it love.

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    LOVE Rent. Saw the film in my first year of university, and got to see the musical shortly after when it came to Toronto during a North American tour.

    I will however, always hold a small grudge against the live musical…after making my way to the merchandise booth after the show, I, inspired by the warmth and good nature of the characters, decided to let some soccer mom go ahead of me so that she could buy a Rent button. When I asked for the same button, the girl at the booth said that the lady before me had bought the LAST ONE.

    Stupid bitch. I still don’t have a Rent button. STUPID BITCH.

    ANYWHO, I’m going to see Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert on the 28th with my recently-out dude friend! Super psyched! One of my favourite films!

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    OMFG RENT. i saw it when i was fifteen and couldn’t actually believe i was watching a MUSICAL with LESBIANS. i never thought that would happen. i got home at 10.30pm and by 10.47 i knew every word to take me or leave me. my mum really should have known.

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    “She complained that RENT just seemed like ‘a bunch of spoiled kids whining about art and taking themselves too seriously.'”

    That’s not RENT’s fault, that comes from the source material. In La Boheme the artists are much whinier (and not very talented). But oh, the music!

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    I am so incredibly happy that RENT is coming back. I was lucky enough to see firsthand the effect it had on so many people of a few different generations…because I was one of the idiots waiting in line at 4 am to get an audition! It was just amazing to see how this musical resonated with so many people… and how many people were willing to sleep on the ground in NYC in the middle of March just for a chance to be a part of this show.

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