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.