My top five 'Rent' memories

Originalrentcast_l_2Before there were Fanadus (Xanadu fans), before there were The Guilty Ones — AKA Spring Awakening fans, and yes, I’ve warmed to the show since I wrote that review — there were the Rentheads. And once upon a time, dear PopWatchers, I was one of them. Well, maybe not a rabid one (though ten visits to the Nederlander Theatre ain’t too shabby), but upon hearing that the late Jonathan Larson’s Rent, currently the seventh-longest running show in Broadway history, would pay the fiddler on June 1st, I couldn’t help but be a little verklempt. After all, this was my generation’s Hair, the musical that proved you could be a total East Village slacker, refuse to pay your bills on time, and turn your staid local diner into Coyote Ugly…just because! Sure, Rent had some clunky lyrics: "You’ll be my Queen / and I’ll be your moat" (i.e., you be royalty and I’ll be brown, crappy crocodile water?). But it was the show’s moving, soulful spirit, and soaring rock score that kept it chugging along for 12 years. Here are my top five memories of the show’s many Seasons of Love.

addCredit(“Original RENT cast: Joan Marcus”)

1. On my virgin trip, immediately after Rent bowed on Broadway in April ’96, I passed by none other than Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman on their way to the loo. They had orchestra seats, and I was front mezz, and that dude from The Single Guy was in the rear mezz, but the man sitting next to me was unimpressed. ("If it isn’t Barbra Streisand, I don’t care", he carped. Ah, theater folk.)

2. This show turns grown men into wusses. My third trip was with my mom, who observed that both I and the giant, 6’4" football player-type dude to her left, sobbed like babies when rock ‘n’ roll Roger sang "Your Eyes" to a dying Mimi.

3. Maureen’s big ol’ white butt in "La Vie Boheme" — my first encounter with female nudity onstage. And nobody’s butt was whiter than Idina Menzel’s. But what a talented butt it was! See for yourself! (NSFW, though it’s bare for mere seconds.)

4. In 2005, while waiting on the lottery-drawing line for $20 front-row seats — the primary way I saw the show so many times over the years — I overheard the lottery organizer guy describe the show. "It’s a story about these guys…they live together, they’re best friends…one of them is gay, the others are like, hey, you’re a fag, no big deal…." I had to step away after that.

5. When I heard that Chris Columbus (and not Spike Lee, who’s even mentioned in the show!) was to direct the long-gestating film, my reaction was not unlike Molly Ringwald’s in Sixteen Candles when her grandmother suggests that Long Duk Dong accompany her to the school dance.

How about you, PopWatchers? Are you as sad as I am about the show’s demise? Or do you think it’s high time they vacated the building?

Comments (51 total) Add your comment
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  • Kelly

    After obsessing about the show for so many years, and finally (last spring) going to NYC for the first time, the first Broadway show that I would see had to be RENT. We lined up for the lottery and lo and behold, won the tickets. It was exactly how I imagined it would be. Even though I’d seen the show a couple times with touring casts, it was nothing like being in the Nederlander where all of it went down. RENT is one of the reasons I wanted to become an actor, and will forever hold a special place in my heart. I am glad I got the chance to see it before it closed.

  • arahsae

    In Jonathan Larson’s defense, the line “You’ll be my Queen/and I’ll be your moat” follows “You’ll be my King/and I’ll be your castle”. Which, given the song’s main point of protecting (or as the lyrics say, “covering” one another), this makes absolute perfect sense. Maybe someone just needs to brush up on the idea of metaphor as a lyrical device…

  • Angel

    I fell in love with the music of “Rent” in high school. I was on drill team and we did a very technical routine to a mix of a couple songs. I was captivated by the music, so I bought the 2 cd original cast recording. I loved it even more after listening to it in it’s entirety. I saw it with a touring cast in Lincoln, NE two years ago. I was amazing.
    Then I rented the movie. I was more than dissapointed. While it featured some of the original cast, it didn’t stay true to the musical. And I know, neither do most musicals that they turn into movies, but I thought maybe they would stay pure for this one. I’m sad to know that those who have never seen the live show will have nothing else to compare it to but this movie. It’s just not the same. It’s like the difference between eating regular ice cream and then choking down “fat free”. Pretty much the same thing, just not nearly as good. Oh well, I suppose if it touched some lives, then it served Jonathan’s purpose. May he rest in peace.

  • Angel

    Whoops, I meant “IT was amazing”, not “I was amazing”. :)

  • paige

    am i the only one who thought RENT was highly overrated???

  • Carla

    A Long Duk Dong reference? Awesome. Will you marry me?

  • Ceballos

    The show’s had a very healthy run, but it’s still sad to hear that it’ll be shutting down in a few months. (By the way, Jason, I’m totally with you on #5…the movie isn’t so much bad, as it is painfully average)
    I know the music so well, that I actually got bored and decided to translate as much as I could into Spanish. I live in St. Petersburg, Florida, so I haven’t had quite as many chances to see it as other people have, but I’ve still caught the show seven times (in places like Tampa, Gainesville and twice in New York).
    As for my favorite memory. Well that would be about a month ago, when (without knowing that the show would be closing a few months later) I got to see the show on Broadway from the front row for the first time in my life with my girlfriend during our Christmas trip to New York.
    (Cheap plug alert: I wrote about it here:)

    http://whatjohnceballosthinks.blogspot.com/2008/01/rent-on-broadway-review.html

  • Heather

    I’ve seen the show a number of times but nothing will ever top the experience of seeing it in April ’96 for the first time. I was absolutely enthralled and it was one of my greatest theater “moments.” It is sad to see it close but it certainly had its day and I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of it (that horrid movie should not be its only legacy).

  • Kate

    I loved Rent when I saw it ages ago at university. I recently rented the movie and was still just as thrilled, even with Rosario Dawson in there. :) I love seeing Traci Thoms and Jesse L. Martin there as well, before they became famous cops. :)

  • PS

    I saw the show live about 3-4 years ago, wih a Roger who was just “so-so” at best. So seeing (mostly) the original cast in the movie was actually an improvement to some degree. I think the movie as a legacy is better than no film at all for reference.

  • sje

    I first encountered Rent as a college first-year, so almost 5 years ago, when my roommate would put the cast recording on repeat. I fell in love and seeing it twice since has only strengthened my affection for the show. I know some people think it’s overrated, and it could probably do with some editing, but there’s a beautiful heart and rock and roll spirit underlying the whole thing. I’m sad to see it go, because it was such a seminal musical in modern Broadway.

  • NineDaves

    i for one am happy about this. i think rent needs to take a step away from broadway before it can be appreciated again. it’s been 12 years. it had a huge inpact on broadway. but now? now it’s turned into a stopping ground for former american idol hopefuls and former teen popstars (actually, that could be broadway in general). i for one am most excited by the rent remixed version running in london right now. i would love to see what that is all about, and where broadway could take the show in a future revival. jonathan died before the show was really complete – it’s a somewhat unfinished work that could use a bit of a makeover.

  • anywhome

    just a rip-off of hair….

  • idigress

    I have seen the travelling company production many times. I would like to see it in NY before the lights go down on such a great show!

  • Gretchen

    I first saw RENT in 2004 with my best friend during my first trip to NYC. I have since seen it “on tour” and I was upset when original casts members were back! If I didnt have a job, I would have totally been there! I love everything about the play – acceptance, love, friendship – so great and a great message to those who will listen.
    As a side note, my bf’s sister moved to NYC in August and for Christmas, her pick him up some RENT memorabilia for me. By far, the best gift this Christmas.
    I will miss RENT.

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