Thursday, June 12, 2008

T-minus three months until the end of a Broadway era....

Though it was originally supposed to happen this past Saturday night, the end of an era in the history of Broadway musicals will instead take place just after Labor Day, when the 12-year run of Jonathan Larson's "Rent" comes to a close on Sept. 7th at the Nederlander Theater in New York.

The show, which was set in the Alphabet City neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, tackled real-life controversial issues such as Gay/Lesbian relationships and the AIDS epidemic. Larson, a visionary playwright/composer who idolized Stephen Sondheim, got the idea from another playwright who had proposed doing an updated and modern version of Puccini's "La Boheme" that was set in modern times. Larson then asked permission to continue the work on his own and came up with the play that we have today. As we all know though, he never got to see an actual performance other than the last dress rehearsal, dying of an aortic anyeurism just hours before his play was to open at the New York City Theater Workshop.

From there, the show took on a life of its own, opening in late April of 1996 and going on to win several Tonys, Drama Desk, Obies and even the Pullitzer Prize.

It goes without saying that Larson got his wish, as his play is widely considered to be the "Hair" for the generation born in the 1960s and 1970s, a revolutionary show that took a hard look at serious issues yet still managed to be successful on normally very conservative Broadway because of a combination of two things: amazing energy throughout the show and an influx of late Boomers and Gen X-ers flocking in droves to see it.

I remember first hearing about it during the Tonys, then got a chance to actually see it over Christmastime in 1997 with one of my best friends, a fellow theater buff. The cast, whose most notable actor was former "Doogie Howser M.D." star Neil Patrick Harris, was simply electric. The energy was amazing and the show ran the range of emotions as the story progressed. This was definitely not my mother's or my grandmother's Broadway show, that was for damn sure.

After that, I vowed to see it in NYC and got the chance on two occasions to do so, once in 1999 on a trip to northern New Jersey and again during the 10-month period that I worked in Midtown and lived in Queens. Seeing it in the Big Apple was even more electric, as the audience was mostly a bunch of seasoned veterans (affectionately known as "Rentheads") who would sing with some of the numbers, making it a much different experience from the more novice crowds in L.A. and the traditionalists above 42nd Street.

Though I have been largely lucky to have not been affected by the ugliness of the AIDS epidemic except through a friend who lost her brother, this still touched me a great deal, both as a human being and a person who has several friends and acquaintances who are gay. The issues are very real and even though we are in 2008, they still apply as much as they did when Larson began working on it 20 years ago.

So, to the cast of Rent, i bid you adieu and say thank you to everyone involved and especially to the late Jonathan Larson for giving Broadway the breath of fresh air and dose of reality that it so desperately needed.

"Seasons of.........Looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo-ve, Seasons of...............Looooooooooooooooooooooooooo-ve"