When I first experienced RENT the week it opened, it was during a tumultuous period of my life, a life-altering turbulence. While the issues of HIV/AIDS and drugs that predominated this modern rock fable loosely based on Puccini’s “La Boheme” weren’t even in the realm of the personal terrain I was sojourning, Jonathan Larson’s score somehow managed to evoke the yearning, the longing, the sadness, the desperation, and ultimately the resolution of my very soul at the time.
I revisited the show over the years and was sad to realize that it didn’t hold up well, and the epiphany that my ties to the original production were based on my life cycle circa April, 1996. While I can still appreciate the vision Larson had embarked upon – and realized – by second viewing a year and a half later, it seemed somewhat passé. A ‘classic’, no matter how aged or of its time, should never feel antiquated and the issue, ironically, was the songbook – while a few memorable ones stand out after all these years (“Seasons Of Love”, “One Song Glory”, and “Without You” hold up particularly strongly), none are archetypal, too many forgettable. Which is problematic in a score with over 30.
RENT finally closed after 12 years, 4 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) a Pulitzer Prize in Drama and a devotional following in September 2008; my fourth and final viewing was in August, a month before final curtain. I was saddened at how lethargic it all was. The strength of the original players wasn’t necessarily their acting, but the power and conviction of their voices and belief in the material. That final cast had none of the these.
Is it too soon to bring back such a hallowed show (its rabid fan base call themselves “Rentheads”) only three years after it closed? Original director, Michael Greif, is directing the revival. Will he modify his own work? Will he remain faithful to Larson’s vision? I guess the Rentheads – and the critics – will have their word soon enough – the revival opens Off-Broadway at the New World Stages next week.
I’ve actually pondered whether or not to revisit the show, but if this promotional video is indicative of what’s in store, I think I’ll pass (though, nothing can be as brain-atrophyingly awful as the film version).