by Mike Bryant
Rent is considered by many to be a flawed musical.
No, wait, don’t close this tab yet! I’ll try and explain myself.
The word “flawed” has many negative connotations for good reasons. Flawed tends to denote poor scripts, clunky lyrics, and little to no character development, but calling a musical flawed doesn’t necessarily mean the show as a whole doesn’t work.
Rent has been criticised for its excessive amounts of cheese (“I saw a warm, white light…”), its occasionally awkward lyrics (“Your eyes, as we say our goodbyes…”) and its angsty tone (If Roger had been born a little later, he could have had a brilliant career as My Chemical Romance’s frontman) and yet, despite all of these flaws, it remains one of the most touching musical theatre pieces in the history of Broadway.
Rent stays firmly lodged in the minds of theatregoers the world over. I think this is because the worries, fears, fights, plights, wants and needs haven’t changed all that much in the almost twenty years since its Broadway debut in 1996.
We all live with fear. Fear of poverty, fear of the death of pets, family, friends or lovers. Fear of wasting what precious little time we have on this earth.
Rent, while acknowledging the fear inherent in every human life, teaches us not to let that fear rule us. The fear and uncertainty are parts of us, but not the whole and, if we are to get the most out of life, we need to accept it, move on, and teach that fear to get the hell out of our way.
Rent says that even in poverty, we can find joy. People will die, but what defines them is how they lived and how they made us feel. Rent reminds us that even in the darkest of times, there is light and often that light comes from family and friends (who, after all, are just the family that we choose.)
Finally, one of the reasons that I think Rent has such staying power is because of that old R word. Representation.
In our increasingly PC age, the word representation gets thrown around a lot to the point where it has almost reached a type of self-conscious arrogance, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t vital.
I was lucky enough to be born in 1991, and by the time I was discovering my sense of self and coming to terms with my sexuality, it was the mid 2000s. I was extremely fortunate to come out as gay in an age where such things were, while admittedly not perfect, at least open topics of discussion and not viewed with the scorn, disgust and derision they had been for so long.
I discovered Rent in 2007. I was sixteen and had just come out to the world. I was living in a small town and was the only openly queer person at my high school and I didn’t know any other queer people at all.
I saw Rent, and saw people like me.
I recognised myself in Collins, Joanne, Maureen and more importantly, in Angel.
Angel’s life wasn’t easy and yet she was brave, confident and knew exactly who she was. She dressed how she wanted to dress and loved who she wanted to love.
She showed me that having a gender identity or sexuality that was different from the social “norm” (whatever the hell that means) was not a sentence to a lifetime of misery. To a young gay and wannabe drag queen, this was a revelation.
Rent taught me all this, and I’m positive I’m not the only one. Seeing people like you onstage or onscreen can give you hope for the future and it can dispel that feeling of utter loneliness and fear.
If a “flawed” musical can teach us so many things, and comfort so many in need, then I wish more flaws upon humanity. Clearly the flaws accomplish more than perfection.
No Day But Today.
RENT reviewed by Maryanne Cathro
Originally posted on Theatreview
Rent – they can't pay it and they won't pay it.
Rent is a story based loosely on Puccini's La Bohème, about a group of friends surviving poverty, AIDS and gentrification in New York's Lower East Side in the early 1990s. These are the Bohemians of the end of the Millennium; making art and making love while property developers try to take away their spaces and AIDS robs them of their future.
It is so great to finally have this piece of iconic American musical theatre here in Wellington, directed by Ben Emerson with music director Bruno Shirley and choreographer Esther Welsh. First shown in 1994, it opened on Broadway in 1996 and ran for 12 years. Jonathan Larson wrote Rent based on his own experiences of life in the Lower East Side; unfortunately he died the day before the show opened and never saw what a success it would become.
The Wellington Footlights Society is a cooperative of talented young performers, putting on the shows they want to do and we rarely get to see. Rent is a great vehicle for their talents. The stage at the Whitereia Performing Arts School on Vivian St has the space and height to carry it off.
It is also, unfortunately, a difficult space acoustically, with the audience spread widely across the front. Excellent vocals are often hard to hear over the band and important information about the plot is lost in the process. I fervently hope this imbalance will be fixed before the season goes any further, as unamplified voices and an amplified rock band do not sit well together.
Therefore it is not surprising that the musical highlights are the belting numbers and the ensemble singing. My favourite number is the soulful vocal showdown, ‘Take Me or Leave Me' with Stacey O'Brien as Maureen and Laura Gardner as Joanne. Aretha and Ella would have been proud!
One of many beautiful ensemble moments is the opening number of Act Two – ‘Seasons of Love'. How do you describe a year? 525,600 minutes? As I look down the line of performers singing their hearts out, every face, every body is giving it their all. Likewise the street-savvy, cynical Homeless chorus with their twisted Christmas carols are delightful, convincing, physical and funny.
Do they nail it? Yes they do. It is a big, complex, emotional musical in the best tradition of modern American theatre; lots of big feelings are sung out: echoes of that operatic heritage. They capture the light and the shade of the show – get the laughs where there ought to be laughs and cause a few damp eyes in the right moments too.
All in all this is the kind of work Footlights are becoming known for: a fusion of excellent ensemble work, energy, enthusiasm and talent.
Director Ben Emerson and actor Laura Gardner appeared on Wellington Access Radio's C-Zone to talk RENT with Simon Howard. Follow the link here to download the interview!
Like every good Wellington Footlights experience, it began with a mad flurry of excitement, nerves and a gay bar. Our Rent photoshoot was fast approaching and we needed to find a venue to fit the vision of the show. After tossing between a variety of ideas, ranging from empty theatres to some more radical and possibly illegal ideas, we found the perfect venue, the fabulous Ivy bar! The friendly environment, the awesome brick décor, the underground parking lot and the delicious selection of teapot cocktails made for the perfect match for our show and our cast's … thirst.
Rebecca Tate, our stunning photographer, spent a entire three hours taking photos of the cast and collected roughly 822 photos! Fingers crossed we could find at least one we liked. Of course the real trouble was whittling the options down to choose the final poster image!
Ahh and finally, a photoshoot isn't a real photoshoot until someone forgets the entire casts costumes in his car. Yes, in the overly excited rush, yours truly left behind the brilliant costumes our costume designer Lisa Kiyomoto-Fink had spent hours sourcing especially for the show. Luckily the 90’s are back in fashion and a thankful amount of our cast came dressed in what looked like their costumes anyway! Are the actors going method or was it just good casting? Either way, they pulled it off, and now we have a plethora of fantastic promotional photos ready to release over the next three weeks until we open!
Without further ado, after hours of editing, formatting, blood, sweat, and tears... here is our poster!
Viva La Vie Boheme!
Special thanks to Steven Mawhinney & Rebecca Tate
As a little treat, have this bonus photo of the fiiine Dave and David (D&D) looking like they're in an art-house drama film.