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Musical Guide - Review of Rent

Paul Heingarten

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If I had to sum up the message put forth in the musical Rent, it would be this: “Hope Springs Eternal". This musical provides a fresh approach to a classic story and a touching bittersweet tale of the triumphs and tribulations of life.

Rent is in part a remake of the Puccini Opera La Boheme and in part an autobiography of its creator, Jonathan Larson.

The characters of Rent are twentysomething bohemians, enjoying a financially sparse but creatively abundant existence in New York's Alphabet City. Mark and Roger, respectively a filmmaker and rock musician, are roommates living in a run down slum operated by their former roommate, Benny. Another former roommate, Collins is a college professor who drops in after a stint out of town. Also living in the same building as Roger and Mark is Mimi, exotic dancer and chronic addict. Rounding out the ensemble are Maureen, sexy and fiery performance artist, her on again off again love, Joann the lawyer and Angel, a drag queen with a heart of gold.

Powerful themes abound throughout Rent. Several of the characters are HIV positive and this is shown in cold harsh reality. These people are suffering from their physical ailments as well as the feeling of alienation in a world too busy to care. Amid all of this they find the strength to carry on and seek joy through the love and support of each other.

It doesn't take long to really start caring about the characters in Rent. The love story between Roger and Mimi, taken directly from Puccini's original work, is given a new twist through the complications of HIV and drug addiction. As the characters of Rent face financial issues, breakups/makeups, physical illness and even death, their hope is never diminished. As the song from the soundtrack so eloquently puts it: “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. . . no other road, no other way. . . no day but today. "

As powerful a story that Rent offers, the story behind the musical is equally as compelling if not more. Jonathan Larson was an aspiring playwright eagerly pursuing his dream of getting a hit production and making his mark on musical theater. Up until Rent, his successes had been not a lot to write home about. Rent catapulted him over the top and established his name as a top-notch playwright and composer. Sadly, Larson was only able to see the final rehearsal of Rent performed before dying of an aortic aneurysm caused by Marfan syndrome. The amazing part of the story is how much Rent went on to take the theater world by storm and became the hottest play on Broadway for some time. The play won several awards including the Tony for Best Musical. The message put forth by this play was simply too powerful to be stopped.

The first chapter of the story of Rent came to a close in 2008 with the announcement of the first run of the play closing on Broadway. There seems little doubt that in time, a revival of this beautiful and touching story about friendship, love and hope will return to grace Broadway once more and share it's message with theater audiences over and over.

I cannot urge you enough to see this play if you can - at least, see the movie that stars most of the original Broadway cast. Experience the love, hopes, fears and joys of these people. This story will touch you in some way.

Thank you Jonathan Larson.

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