Last night, I finally saw a live production of RENT. It’s 20 years old this year, which seems impossible. Up until last night, I had only seen the movie, which I do enjoy even though I know that it is not perfect and lots of fans of the Broadway musical dislike intensely. After seeing the live production, I can understand their concerns a little bit better. That having been said, it was probably the best film version of RENT we were ever going to get because as produced for the stage, it’s unfilmable in the traditional movie sense. It does make me want to get the DVD of the final Broadway performance filmed for posterity just so I can watch it again.
I think that RENT is kind of a funny thing. I don’t know that it packs the same cultural punch that it did in the late 90s when it premiered. Heidi pointed out to me last night that the queer/trans character with AIDS died, while Mimi (who really should have died) managed to live. That’s more a product of the time than anything else – queer/trans people did not really get happily ever afters – but it’s still worth thinking about. It was just last season on CWs The 100 where they killed off the LGBT character and Twitter erupted in a firestorm. Hollywood still hasn’t gotten the message completely that LGBT folks need happy endings too. I’m pretty sure that’s a big part of why Heidi writes what she does.
Watching the show last night was very emotional for me. I always get something in my eye during “Life Support” – especially the “because reason says I should have died three years ago” part. And “Finale B” is so intense for me, with its overlapping vocals containing so many of the musical and lyrical themes, before ending with a triumphant “No day but today!” It probably sounds trite, but it’s how it makes me feel.
Whenever I watch a show like that, I think, wow, I wish I could have done something like that. Some people dream of being a stand-up comic or a dramatic actress. Me, I wish I could have done musical theater. Now, I don’t pretend for a minute that that could have ever been a reality, even if I had been mentally well enough to pursue that in my younger days. First off, although I’m no slouch, I don’t really have the voice for that. Also, I’m not coordinated enough to do the dancing. And at 44, I KNOW I don’t have the stamina to keep up with rigorous stage work. But every time I go to a live musical, that part of me gets a little wistful for what might or could have been, even if it really couldn’t have been.
But as RENT says “forget regret! or life is yours to miss.” I think that the part of me that wishes it had done musical theater is the part of me that does karaoke now, even though I don’t think I’m that good at it. It’s the part of me that has managed to push past the risk-averseness that is my nature and put myself out there for public evisceration. But to paraphrase Rob Sheffield, there is no other pastime in the world that celebrates your effort even if you suck at it. So perhaps that’s why I take solace in it. Because even when I suck (which I have – like the time I attempted “Dark Lady” -eeesh!), I am doing better than the people that won’t even try.
And I’m honoring that part of me that wishes I could sing as well as the people in the show last night. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. After two songs, my voice is usually somewhere between “frog” and “non-existent.”