A stranger has given me the greatest gift of my life. After the gift of birth and air, the next most important thing in this world is learning how very precious and wonderful the gift of life truly is. Some wander around and never find out how lucky they are or how much they are loved. Some people never realize that you should not count the heartache or even cups of coffee you have but rather “measure your life in love.” After a former friend in college introduced me to this gift I have never ever let it go. I feel it is my mission to share it with the world. I am not alone in this notion.
I normally don’t burst into tears typing my blog titles but that is what just happened thirty seconds ago. I couldn’t even open my eyes, tears were frozen in mid-air. My eyes were squeezed shut as if I were holding them in because the emotion was too much, but too wonderful all at once when I realized what the title should be.
Names and titles have always been very important to me. I love catchy names even in books I see in the store. I feel like when you give something the proper name not only does it identify its meaning for others but it also clearly represents your point to the world. When it comes to giving titles to my posts, many times I have them months in advance and I hesitate to change them. But sometimes I feel they are wrong. I get this sensation in my gut that is bothered when I read it. If that is the case I can’t even move past that point until the right title hits me. Sometimes it takes days. Right now that took a mere minute. It was as if the heavens were smacking me on the head and I realized the importance of this blog and how unbelievable it was that I have not written these words ever before. They are the reason I am who I am and do what I do.
Take a listen and you will understand why.
RENT is the story of struggling artists, but mostly I see it as the story of young people trying to find themselves in this world. As Angel says, “life support is a group for people coping we life.” That is what RENT is. It is relatable to anyone that needs to learn how to see the silver lining in almost any situation. The love was so powerful from this show it transcended age, social class, gender, any barriers you can think of. The fans are from every walk of life. That is why on the outside of the Nederlander theater for twelve years the walls were covered with the writing of everyone who came to visit and leaving the messages they learned behind as a memorial. In a particularly heartwarming moment I noticed that in the Off Broadway version now playing there is a new wall. Since this show is held inside and downstairs of a multi-show venue, the wall too is inside and has the word CREATE on it and instinctively people knew what to do. That is the legacy of RENT in a nutshell.
RENT was also one of the first shows to have a lottery on the day of a performance to raffle off orchestra tickets. This is now a very common practice but RENT started this trend because they wanted everyone to have an equal chance to see the show. I won one time and sat first row dead center. It was amazing! I have seen the show so many times that I have sat almost everywhere in that theater. It is like a temple to me.
In a twist of fate no writer could produce, the creator and author of RENT Jonathan Larson’s real life proved his point. Jonathan died suddenly of an undiagnosed aortic dissection in his apartment the night before RENT would open Off Broadway. He was just shy of his thirty-sixth birthday. He never got to see how his dream would turn out or the reward of all of his work of many, many years would go. His parents gave the permission for the show to go on, and so that next night RENT opened on schedule. He beloved cast and friends did the only thing their broken hearts would let them, they went on. They let Jonathan’s story come to light and life and changed the course of Broadway and culture forever.
This is a comment I read online:
“Once the show was over, there was a long applause followed by silence which was eventually broken when an audience member shouted out ‘Thank you, Jonathan Larson.’”
It is a popular telling of that story. That was just the beginning of the story of how a rock musical would change the world of theater, the kind of people that would go to Broadway, and how one man’s dream would create a generation of love.
RENT would move on to Broadway for twelve years and Jonathan Larson would posthumously win the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for drama.
RENT would also win the following awards:
Tony Award for Best Musical (1996) for Rent
Tony Award for Best Book (1996) for Rent
Tony Award for Best Score (1996) for Rent
Drama Desk Outstanding Musical (1996) for Rent
Drama Desk Outstanding Book (1996) for Rent
I have never actually quoted myself before but sometimes you just have to. This is from my very first month of blogging in March of 2011, from a post entitled
“What Theater Means to Me” (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2011_03_01_archive.html):
“The very first time I saw RENT my life changed. I was with my oldest and best friend and afterward we were speechless. This needless to say was a rare event. I know different stories speak to different people at different times of their lives. As a college student at that time it spoke to me about the concept of friends becoming your family and learning to love yourself and life for what it was. RENT was on Broadway for 12 years and I have seen the show too many times to count. I would literally have to count my playbills as I save everyone from every show. I continued to go back to feel the inspiration, love and invigoration it provided me every single time. RENT taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life- NO DAY BUT TODAY.”
As it turns out Mr. Larson and I are fellow alma maters of the same college, Adelphi University (AU). He was actually attending AU the year I was born, 1981. It is ironic that as a freshman when I learned of my love of RENT and his background story, I would then meet the teachers who knew him and would recount stories of how they could predicted his talent. Talk about serendipity.
In the years that followed college, I moved on and RENT followed me. I shared it with everyone in my life. I was there every year to see it, and of course during the week of its final performance. I went to see it in theaters, and especially to see it on the big screen when the very final show was filmed. I cried every single time, over and over again, because each time I learned something new about myself and about the strength of one man’s mission.
I was lucky enough to still be visiting Adelphi when the latest generation decided to stage their interpretation of RENT. I will admit for a die heart fan of the original version it is hard to watch change and time affect what is lodged in your memory. But the all time greatest thing did happened. At the end during the applause, the lights spelled out “Thank you Jonathan” on the floor and the entire cast blew a kiss to the sky. It was all I could do not to gasp out loud. It was the most wonderful tribute at a place he once called home. I loved that his life was full circle at that moment and that his family could be there to witness it.
On July 18, 2012 I read online that the Life Café, the real site where Jonathan Larson wrote RENT (also a place in RENT) had closed both of its locations due to financial problems. It was a place of pilgrimage for many RENT-heads as dedicated fans are known, and the bench where Jonathan sat had a plaque on it. In order to preserve that piece of history, Jonathan’s parents and the Life Café made arrangements for the bench to be moved to Adelphi University, which has the space and history for such an artifact. Although this campus has had many modifications since the days he was there, the heart, soul, and spirit of this school is where the bench belongs to pay proper homage to this artist. There are also two collages from Life magazine, a wooden “Thank You Jonathan” plaque hand-carved by Jonathan’s Uncle Gene, and a large panel from the original RENT stage set at the Nederlander Theatre.
On a recent trip to Garden City I was able to pass by Adelphi University and get to visit this bench and the other memorabilia. To say it took my breath away is an understatement. I thought it would make me sad but actually it made me smile. I felt happy and content. It was a spiritual feeling for me. It must be like the feeling some people get when they go to holy place and pray. For me this was sacred ground and I felt lucky I got to be so close to it and pay my respects. It felt like everything was as it should be, or at least as it should be in these circumstances. I knew I would be seeing RENT in its final few performances Off Broadway and in my way of making peace of the changes I knew I would see and the uncomfortable feelings I might have with anyone changing “my” play. I was sorry I never got to go to the Life Café but I don’t think I would have handled that well. Now at least it will live on in my heart and head forever.
I am not going to give an actual review of this last performance I saw. I don’t think that’s important. I have decided that the real important message should be about keeping Jonathan Larson and his message alive. As any diehard fan will tell you, you can critique anything. I have had problems with different shows I have seen and even the movie. The magnitude it had on that big Broadway stage is something no other production will ever be able to compete with so that is why I absolutely LOVED that they filmed the very last Broadway performance. During that final show some of the original cast members came out on stage to sing the last song. That scene still gives me chills. The fact that I get to own that piece of history is even better.
So with all my indecisiveness, that I now can’t imagine I had, I guess I just didn’t want to imagine a world again where RENT was not playing on a stage eight nights a week. I had been crushed when it closed on Broadway but it now seemed fitting that it was ending again Off Broadway where it had all began. I know that in our hearts the memories and messages live on. For me that’s the most important part.
“I guess I just came to say goodbye love. Goodbye.”
For your ticket to see RENT:
For the Life Café:
Follow on Twitter @Lifecafe
For information on the bench:
For further reading:
For RENT clips: