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No Day But June 1st
January 16, 2008 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Nearly 12 Years Old, ‘Rent’ Is to Close. The 1996 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical will close its doors at New York's Nederlander Theatre on June 1st. The 7th longest-running musical in Broadway history, it is based on Puccini's La Boheme and is credited with bringing young people to musical theatre and the invention of Broadway Rush ticketing - it sold its first two rows for $20: first in , first served on the day of the performance.

Creator Jonathon Larson didn't live to see the phenomenal success of the show, dying from an aortic anuerysm on the morning of the show's off-Broadway premiere.

A feature film version was released in 2005 (trailer) starring most of the Original Broadway Cast - who also reunited for a 10th Anniversary show in 2006, raising two million dollars for the Jonathon Larson Performing Arts Foundation and the New York Theatre Workshop where the show was first performed.
posted by crossoverman (77 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Now, if all the other musicals would close as well, all will be right with the world.
posted by jonmc at 6:42 PM on January 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


Finally!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:42 PM on January 16, 2008


My high school girlfriend graduated a year before me and we broke up. She and her hallmates were really into Rent and would listen to the CDs and go in and buy the rush tickets in Boston every so often. And I thought, "God! She's so much more sophisticated than me now! Listening to Rent! Dating MIT boys!"

We're still friends, but Rent is closing.
posted by HeroZero at 6:43 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now, if all the other musicals would close as well, all will be right with the world.

you're so not gay, jon
posted by matteo at 6:45 PM on January 16, 2008


(dude, it actually has more to do with the fact that I went to college infested with theatre majors for two years and had to hear the Broadway soundtracks through the thin walls. I used to blare 'Freebird' back at them in self-defense)
posted by jonmc at 6:47 PM on January 16, 2008


Now, if all the other musicals would close as well, all will be right with the world.

I saw this in 1996 just before it won all of the Tonys. The only reason we went is because the producers gave us tickets and we had an evening to kill. Completely forgettable.

All I remember was saying hello to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman during intermission.
posted by wfc123 at 6:50 PM on January 16, 2008


I saw rent when I was maybe 14 or 15 and was ready to run off to NYC to be homeless, and you know "really find myself." But it's still a great musical.
posted by whoaali at 6:51 PM on January 16, 2008


Man, I loved Rent back in the day. I can't really say why it spoke to me so much, I'm not really sure. I look at it now and it seems so dated. But most shows do, I suppose. I forsee a healthy life in regional theatres, colleges, and high schools. Shame Larson didn't live to see what became of his baby (and to enjoy the big fat pile of cash the show made his estate).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:54 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've seen it like 15 times in multiple states and countries. I know this is not cool, but I cannot help it. You like what you like. Now that it's closed on Broadway more high schools and community colleges will be able to produce it.
posted by mattbucher at 6:56 PM on January 16, 2008


based on Puccini's La Boheme

And/or it was ripped off from Sarah Schulman's novel People in Trouble.
posted by rtha at 6:56 PM on January 16, 2008


When I first heard this, I was ten years past my high school Broadway obsession. I knew Larson's songwriting was lovely and brilliant, and I wanted to love it, I really did. I just couldn't get past the fact that I . . . liked Benny better than anyone else in the cast. Especially after the thing with the dog.

Poor Larson -- what couldn't he have accomplished if he'd had a longer life!
posted by Countess Elena at 6:59 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good riddance.
posted by Falconetti at 7:04 PM on January 16, 2008


is credited withblamed for bringing young people to musical theatre

fixed that for you.
posted by jonmc at 7:04 PM on January 16, 2008


Oh thank God.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:13 PM on January 16, 2008


And/or it was ripped off from Sarah Schulman's novel People in Trouble.

RENT is so close to being La Boheme that this claim is a bit rich - he didn't homage Puccini, but he did rip off a book no one has ever heard of? Her claim that Larson used the central relationship of her book - a love triangle between two gay women and a man - is pretty slight, given how little is actually made of that triangle in RENT.

I just couldn't get past the fact that I . . . liked Benny better than anyone else in the cast.

This same thing struck me with the release of the film and a local version of the stage show last year - my point of view has definitely changed about the characters. When it first came out, I was living with these kind of people. Now I'm more like Benny.
posted by crossoverman at 7:24 PM on January 16, 2008


So that's how long it takes for the power of my aesthetic revulsion to affect change in the world.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:28 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anyone want to take a guess at the NY Post's headline for this?
posted by Challahtronix at 7:31 PM on January 16, 2008


And/or it was ripped off from Sarah Schulman's novel People in Trouble.

Wow, she comes off as a pretty awful person. Neither article takes much of a stand on it or provides much in concrete examples. Is there actually any evidence of anything worse than a similar plot?
posted by Bookhouse at 7:32 PM on January 16, 2008


And/or it was ripped off from Sarah Schulman's novel People in Trouble.

I read People in Trouble, and it bears little similarity to Rent, IMO. If Larson did steal it, he didn't do a very good job.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:42 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is there actually any evidence of anything worse than a similar plot?

From what I recall, the one claim that stood out in my mind was that a friend of Schulman supposedly mentioned her book to Larson, and Larson supposedly said, oh, yea, I'm using that (in my show).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:44 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rent was the first movie that I ever saw on Netflix. I had never seen it before then but all my gay friends told me to watch it.

It was .... ok. The overriding message that I got from Rent is "Everybody has AIDS, but it's ok, because WE CAN SING!!!" *cue music*

I don't want to sound too harsh, since it may very well have raised awareness and/or given comfort to people living with AIDS, but to me it seemed shallow -- like putting a smiley face over a skull-and-crossbones.
posted by Avenger at 7:46 PM on January 16, 2008


Anyone want to take a guess at the NY Post's headline for this?

"Rent evicted. Gays cry."
posted by dr_dank at 7:52 PM on January 16, 2008


I haven't read People in Trouble, although I have read some of Schulman's other works. Poking around the web to see what I can find, it actually sounds like Larson definitely read the book, and used at least a few telling details which happened to coincidentally dovetail with what he was already writing, and at most lifted the plot of the book for a major Rent subplot (which is not, incidentally, a subplot which occurs in La Boheme.) However, no actual words or language was lifted, and certainly nothing actionable.

Schulman's complaint seems to be mainly (1) that's lousy, and she should get credit, and Larson was a jerk for not acknowledging her, and (2) her work was co-opted to give a very spin to the story from what she intended, which sucks.

On the merits, she seems to quite likely have a moral case, but not a legal one.
posted by kyrademon at 8:04 PM on January 16, 2008


And everyone is dead from AIDS.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:05 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Shulman settled a small deal with the Larson estate.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:15 PM on January 16, 2008


No worries. They'll open up a restaurant in Santa Fe.
posted by icosahedral at 8:20 PM on January 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


Please, don't giggle dismissively at Rent just because you saw the movie.

If you saw the show, or even listened to the original cast soundtrack all the way through, and you still want to giggle dismissively, please, go to it, have fun with it!

But between the stage show (which I love despite myself) and the movie (which, uh, I'll probably buy eventually for the music and to laugh at), the movie leaves out some things, and unbalances the weighting of others, just enough to make it a lot easier to giggle dismissively at.
posted by Jeanne at 8:26 PM on January 16, 2008


I once slept on King Street overnight to rush Rent.

I wasn't, to be honest, all that into Rent. But I've always felt that one should camp out overnight for something in their life just to have the story to tell. I figured Rent, while not as cool as a rock concert, was marginally cooler than the Star Wars re-release and much cooler than a Best Buy Boxing Day Sale, plus, one of my friends was doing it, so I went with that.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:27 PM on January 16, 2008


So sad. Such an important McTheatre experience for my generation.

I always liked how Fran Lebowitz described it in 1997:

DAVID: I was hoping we could continue the conversation we had over the phone about the evaporation of any sort of 'counter-culture' such as it was.
FRAN: Fine.
DAVID: Is Rent part of that phenomenon?
FRAN: Yes, unfortunately, but you know, those aren't causes, they're effects. I personally didn't see Rent. When it opened, someone asked me to go to Rent, and I said, "I refuse to go." And this guy said, "You always judge things before you see them." Which is the best way to judge them if you ask me, then you don't have to see them. I said, "I know exactly what it's going to be like. It's going to be like Hair with AIDS." So I didn't see it. But then this guy called me in about the middle of the show, when he left, to tell me that I was correct.

posted by chococat at 8:48 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dear Rent Haters,
When in 20 years, the last Broadway production of the cyberpunk musical The Ubuntu King is staged, I shall not weep for you.
Kisses,
posted by moonbird at 8:49 PM on January 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


Awwww.

I went to New York by myself when I was 19, the benefactor of my aunt. I had many adventures there, one of which was winning the Rent raffle, and sitting front row center. Roger kept reading my KEEP YOUR LAWS OFF MY BODY shirt. Good times.

The overriding message that I got from Rent is "Everybody has AIDS, but it's ok, because WE CAN SING!!!

This is pitiful. Really? You expect something else, something less jubilant and more meaningful about dying of AIDS? What is the moral of AIDS, exactly?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:03 PM on January 16, 2008


.
posted by PenDevil at 9:22 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


The overriding message that I got from Rent is "Everybody has AIDS, but it's ok, because WE CAN SING!!!" *cue music*

Ah, the Team America argument. No points to you.

I don't want to sound too harsh, since it may very well have raised awareness and/or given comfort to people living with AIDS, but to me it seemed shallow -- like putting a smiley face over a skull-and-crossbones.

From the time AIDS was named, gay men were vilified for having it. It was the gay disease. Putting it into a mainstream theatrical show was an important step. Treating it as an epidemic that reached across communities (gay and straight men and women are afflicted with HIV in the show) shone a light on the problem that was still in the shadows, even in the mid-90s. The sentiment of "No Day but Today" isn't shallow - and it's not specifically about AIDS.

Clearly queer theatre with fully rounded gay characters coping with HIV and AIDS in their community isn't important to a lot of people posting in this thread. Of course, that's not the only reason to embrace the show, nor to forgive it its faults merely because it was groundbreaking in some areas.

Larson's work doesn't compare to the great works of musical theatre. He was no Sondheim. But at the age he was when he wrote the show, he could have become a great composer. Unfortunately he didn't live that long. But in that context, RENT is as important as anyone else's first work. In that context, it's kind of amazing.

Please, don't giggle dismissively at Rent just because you saw the movie.

Personally I think it's one of the great stage-film adaptations. I am forgiving it some things, mostly because it has so much of the OBC in it. And it hasn't lost a lot from the original show - with a lot of smart changes and some great direction from Chris Columbus (something I didn't think I'd ever say of his work).

But my like of the film does not compare to my love of the stage show. They don't compare very well.
posted by crossoverman at 9:26 PM on January 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


I saw the show, and will now giggle dismissively at it. Honestly, it was one of the most tedious nights I've ever spent in a theater, and all I can remember now is how completely I was on the landlord's side. Pay the damn rent already and shut up.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:00 PM on January 16, 2008


Cultural weight notwithstanding, I find the music in Larson's other show more memorable.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:21 PM on January 16, 2008


I'm bitter about the rush seating.

In Toronto, there was a rush-seat cartel. Basically, some friends of mine went to line up, and waited for a couple of hours. It was their first (and last) attempt to get seats, even though they were the intended audience for rush seats (young and with little money). But it turned out that if you didn't know the right people in the gang that had formed among the obsessive rush seaters (who were also mostly young, but apparently had enough money to go again and again), you didn't get on "the list" which was made by these obsessive Rent-heads, and you didn't get rush seats no matter when you lined up.

Now, I'm sure this didn't happen everytime, and someone might chime in about how they got rush seats in Toronto. I'm glad if you did. But it so disgusted me that this nice idea which had been made to increase access to expensive theatre had been so perverted. It was like anti-rush seating.
posted by jb at 10:30 PM on January 16, 2008


all I can remember now is how completely I was on the landlord's side. Pay the damn rent already and shut up.

Yes, i never really saw the point of being late with the rent. Even my most desperate of friends would just throw a rent party (or ask me for a loan). Also, I currently live in a crappy apartment, and you know what? It sucks.

Putting it into a mainstream theatrical show was an important step.

I realize that there's sort of a long latency between the time a production is conceived and the time it hits the stage, but by 1996, the problem, risks, and consequences of AIDS were well established in the public mind and had been for almost 10 years (I grew up in the northeast, perhaps YMMV if you grew up in rural Kansas). If anything, Rent wasn't innovative in making AIDS part of the public dialog, but rather a result of how widely acknowledged AIDS had become-- to the point where it was just another mass-culture production, a few years after it had already appeared in mainstream cinema.

Anyway, I really dislike musical theater and its fans, so take my comments with a grain of salt.

Anyone want to take a guess at the NY Post's headline for this?

"Lost Their Lease"
posted by deanc at 10:34 PM on January 16, 2008


(They may have waited much more than a few hours - I wasn't there. They figured they were definitely far enough up the line that they should have gotten tickets, except for the mysterious and possibly completely unofficial "list". In the end, they found the list funny - it sounded like some kind of strange drug. "Are you on...the list?")
posted by jb at 10:36 PM on January 16, 2008


Huh. I was aware of The List, but maybe I was permitted entry into the cartel because I was a known associate of some serious Rentheads, because it never caused me a problem.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:40 PM on January 16, 2008


Like AV and TPS, I too was a rent head. NYC before it was Disneyfied... good times. But oh so dated now.
posted by k8t at 10:47 PM on January 16, 2008


I think Rent is an OK musical, except for the songs.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:31 PM on January 16, 2008


realize that there's sort of a long latency between the time a production is conceived and the time it hits the stage, but by 1996, the problem, risks, and consequences of AIDS were well established in the public mind and had been for almost 10 years

So funny. I was just talking to a bartender at my local pub about this. He said that it was written back in 1989, which would make it a bit more relevant for the subject matter, but it took a long time to get noticed enough to get a major production.

He also told me that he had a part written just for him, but the character was changed to a black character, so he couldn't play him.

....hmmm....

does this sound likely?

BTW, he told me about Jonathan Larson's death...as he put it: His heart exploded as he made a pot of tea.

Weirdly relevant post - thanks!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:29 AM on January 17, 2008


I saw it in rush seats in 2004, on Broadway. I enjoyed it, and I still find some of the songs (No Day But Today) really appeal to my somewhat sentimental side.

Had I seen this show when I was 17 or 18, very self-involved and fascinated by creative communities and alternative lifestyles, I believe I would have been a Rent-head. However, I was a bit older when I saw it, and, while it was great fun, it didn't chime with where I was in my life. I'm still fascinated by creative communities, but found myself questioning a lot of the themes in the show that I likely would have accepted uncritically a few years before (like the continuation of the starving artist mythos).

But anyway, good show, which has had a good run.

(Let's not talk about the abomination that is Rent Remixed)
posted by Happy Dave at 1:22 AM on January 17, 2008


I am not a fan of musicals, but liked Rent so much I saw it twice. Good stuff.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:51 AM on January 17, 2008


So, is there any good art "about" AIDS? As Is, Rent, Long Time Companion, Peter's Friends, Philadelphia... it's a bad art parade. Where's the good stuff?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:03 AM on January 17, 2008


You maybe mean plays like Angels in America? The Normal Heart? Memories of Me? Jeffrey? The Dying Gaul?

Or novels like At Risk, A Home At The End of the World, or parts of Tales of the City and Bonfire of the Vanities?

Or songs like Tomorrow Wendy?

Or movies like And The Band Played On and Before Night Falls?
posted by kyrademon at 4:30 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've seen RENT traveling company three time here locally, and loved each time.
Had the opportunity to finally see it at the Nederlander in New York, but passed, as it was one of those weeks when someone from American Idol or N'Sync or Backstreet Boys was guest starring in the cast.

Um, no thank you.

And while the movie won't ever measure up to the live show, I must say that Rosario Dawson did a damn fine job as Mimi. That had to be hard surrounded by the original Broadway cast.
posted by willmize at 4:36 AM on January 17, 2008


Good.

Now can we kill the traveling productions too? I was trapped on an airplane with the young cast of some traveling production of Rent a few months ago. They were the most annoying, loud, self-consciously hipster assholes I've ever had to be within too few feet of, loudly gossiping in arch tones full of sexual innuendo. I swear they thought they were performing for the rest of us. Like they were famous actors or something. Everyone else on the flight -- which was delayed 2 hours, so we got to overhear these obnoxious kids for that long, then endure them on the jetway, then on the plane -- was rolling their eyes.

Note to traveling, aspiring young actors. Do not perform the role of aspiring, hipster actors when you are in a low-budget traveling production. People will think you are assholes.

One down. How long til Broadway finally closes down and we can use that real estate for something useful?
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:24 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's so easy to pick on RENT because it's so 90s and so sincere. It's the type of thing that dates pretty quickly, but it was awesome when it was new. Maybe it'll make a great period piece as a revival one day.

The movie is what it is, but whatever it is, it's not the show. It's the movie. They're not the same thing. I thought changing the story so the first act doesn't all happen on Christmas Eve really changed the whole tone.

And people, Benny (the landlord) told them a year earlier that they'd be able to live in his building for free and then he changes his mind and demands a full year's back rent at once. They should just pay it? Something tells me if someone posted that situation on AskMe, the answers would be something other than "pay the damn rent already and shut up" or "throw a rent party" or "borrow a year's rent from your friend."

Angels in America, though, is my favorite. My favorite...thing.
posted by lampoil at 5:28 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Having read through the comments, I'm not exactly sure what the "ha ha, let's shut down Broadway" is about.

Do y'all have an issue with musical theater as a form?
Or is it just ignorance braying for attention?
posted by the sobsister at 6:43 AM on January 17, 2008


I never never the term RENT-head. I was definitely one and have also seen the musical production a number of times. I'm kind of sad the musical'll be going off Broadway.
I also agree that Rosario did an awesome job.

And people, Benny (the landlord) told them a year earlier that they'd be able to live in his building for free and then he changes his mind and demands a full year's back rent at once.

And don't forget about his blackmail offer to forgo rent if he got the protest canceled.

"Cabal: I can get out of next year's rent if I stop a protest of the city's treatment of our poor. What should I do?"
posted by jmd82 at 6:46 AM on January 17, 2008


Do y'all have an issue with musical theater as a form?

Actually, my question has always been how it is that modern musical theater has such a huge following. It always strikes me that musical theater as a genre is "so sincere" and so earnest and seems to get taken so seriously by its fans. I think the reaction that some people have to musical theater in general is the same that people had to the movie Titanic-- they are loved and loathed for the same reasons.
posted by deanc at 7:06 AM on January 17, 2008


"Will I" - where, during an AIDS support group meeting, they all stand up one by one and ask, "Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care?" - made me cry, as I finally recognized exactly the fears, and the heartache that a friend of one of my uncle that I hadn't known too well had gone through.

The one big probably I had with Rent (play or movie) was Mimi. She always came off as manipulative and self-absorbed.
posted by ShawnStruck at 7:12 AM on January 17, 2008


Having read through the comments, I'm not exactly sure what the "ha ha, let's shut down Broadway" is about.

Do y'all have an issue with musical theater as a form?
Or is it just ignorance braying for attention?


I can't speak for everyone in the thread, but as an actor and a fan of musical theater I can sympathize. Maybe Broadway should be shut down. Let's get rid of the $200-a-seat spectacles and give musical theater back to the people, where it belongs. It's no stranger for a musical theater lover to want to destroy Broadway than it is for a movie lover to want to destroy Hollywood.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:17 AM on January 17, 2008


Cultural weight notwithstanding, I find the music in Larson's other show more memorable.

Really? I find the music in that show absolutely awful. One of the few shows I cannot stand.

How long til Broadway finally closes down and we can use that real estate for something useful?

Ah yes, I recognize you! There are plenty of you in NYC- shutting down anything they can get their grubby hands on so another luxury condominum tower can be put up on the spot. Soon, NYC will be the greatest place on earth to live- no theatres, no restaurants, no clubs, no museums, but condos and co-ops for all! I think I speak for all of New York City when I say YOU ARE NOT WANTED HERE, PLZ DIAF TIA.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:30 AM on January 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


deanc, I'm not sure what you mean when you say that the "genre is 'so sincere' and so earnest." Do you mean that there's no ironic detachment from the form by its audience? I guess I have a hard time imagining pejoratively characterizing any entire artistic form besides Hummel figurines as "so earnest." I'm also not sure how modern musical theater is like Titanic. In the sense that some people like each one a lot? Is modern musical theater like professional football, then? Is modern musical theater like pancakes? How about puppies?

Faint of Butt, I agree that the cost of seeing a show live is absurd. But if you're a fan of musical theater, then you know the cycle of higher costs -> bigger shows (to recoup your investment with a blockbuster perennial) -> higher costs. Why not place the blame on the unions then? Or on the theater owners? I'd love to go back to the days when a dozen new musicals opened on Broadway each year and the top tickets were well within the reach of middle-class attendees too. But that doesn't mean that musical theater as a form is flawed or that its productions are uniformly sub-par. And I don't think that comparing Broadway to Hollywood is particularly apt, unless it's strictly from the standpoint of producers and backers wanting to maximize their rate of return. Which has always been the case. Except previously Broadway producers could afford to swallow a flop this year and mount a new production next year.
posted by the sobsister at 7:37 AM on January 17, 2008


And when I say you, I mean the general you, not any you specifically.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:38 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder when all musicals will die? They seem to have vanished as a major form of cinema... hopefully, hopefully the stage will follow.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:40 AM on January 17, 2008


Oh how every New Yorker would love to live THIS close to Port Authority if the Nederlander was made into a condo. *clapses hands and prances*
posted by spec80 at 8:40 AM on January 17, 2008


The smell of bus fumes wafting through the air.... ahhhhhhh!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:51 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


[Musicals] seem to have vanished as a major form of cinema...

I dunno about that. Just over the last several years, we've had Chicago, The South Park Movie, Moulin Rouge, Team America, Sweeney Todd, and, of course, Rent.
posted by deanc at 8:55 AM on January 17, 2008


I wonder when all musicals will die? They seem to have vanished as a major form of cinema... hopefully, hopefully the stage will follow.

Huh? I hope you're somehow kidding, because actually in just the last couple of years, musicals have actually returned as a major form of cinema: Chicago. Hedwig & the Angry Inch. Hairspray. Dreamgirls. Sweeney Todd. Rent. And coming this summer, Mama Mia. Also I hear a film version of Nine is in the works.

The world of stage musicals is also undergoing a bit of a revival - it's getting a well needed shot of new energy from smaller off-Broadway shows that are bringing their cult followings to the bigger theaters. Avenue Q and Spring Awakening for example.

Sorry, musical-haters. Musicals ain't going anywhere.
posted by dnash at 9:00 AM on January 17, 2008


Do y'all have an issue with musical theater as a form?

Though I'm not among the theater-bashers in this thread, I do think that contemporary musical theater (for the past decade or two) has been just abysmally bad. For me, a musical lives or dies by the quality of musical composition, and Broadway is just infested with facile, Disney-esque, feel-good, pop songwriting; very little real compositional craft and substance is on display, IMHO. I mean, compare the songs/music in Rent with West Side Story or Sweeney Todd (both of which I think are remarkable works of art), or even the Gershwin's early shows like Girl Crazy; Rent is, in my estimation, mostly pop fluff wrapped in some socially relevant themes. Earnest, but mostly shallow. YMMV, obviously.

I blame Andrew Lloyd Webber for temporarily ruining the medium of musical theater--he set the bar for vapidity and lack of imagination in composition, and then his shows made piles of money....


So, is there any good art "about" AIDS?

Already well answered, but thought I'd add a recommendation for John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:05 AM on January 17, 2008


Hmm, I never heard of Hedwig. Chicago, Hairspray, and Dreamgirls were all things which people I knew when to see, but which nobody in my immediate peer group watched; maybe I was unfair.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:07 AM on January 17, 2008


I'm not that fond of musicals and I really dislike the classic Broadway sound - but there are very good musicals going on in just about every theatre cenre on the Continent. They are just outside of the major theatres. One of the best musicals I've ever seen was a five-person musical about Tom Thompson, the Canadian painter, presented at my school. (Professional touring company - they had canoes on stage! and they moved. It was awesome). A friend of mine recently saw two plays in one afternoon in Toronto, one of them a musical, for $25 - said they were both terrific.

So in the true spirit of Rent, it's worth it to get out and look at the theatre pages for those little hole in the wall theatres, or even middle-sized places.
posted by jb at 9:34 AM on January 17, 2008


Hedwig, Urinetown, Avenue Q, Reefer Madness The Musical? Musicals are thriving. It's not all Wicked and Hairspray. Feh!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:45 AM on January 17, 2008


and Grey Gardens!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2008


Huh? I hope you're somehow kidding, because actually in just the last couple of years, musicals have actually returned as a major form of cinema

True, and you didn't even mention the jugernaut that put musicals back on the map for the younger generation: High School Musical. Laugh if you will, but I hear that whenever a school holds auditions for the stage adaption of this show, hundreds upon hundreds of kids show up. It's cool to be a theatre nerd!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Laugh if you will, but I hear that whenever a school holds auditions for the stage adaption of this show, hundreds upon hundreds of kids show up. It's cool to be a theatre nerd!
I'd be remiss if I didn't reference this Suck.com essay on theater from July of 2000:
The high school drama department's role as an Island of Misfit Toys for socially isolated youth has led to more adult children living at home than the last three mini-recessions combined.
I would say that if there's something that causes people to get irritated at Rent as opposed to, say, Wicked or Mama Mia, it's that Rent seemed to metastisize into a culture of suburban self-important "Rent-heads," while Wicked and Mama Mia can be appreciated/ignored as low-brow entertainment for NYC tourists and Avenue Q can be appreciated as a genuinely somewhat subversive form of musical theater entertainment.
posted by deanc at 10:01 AM on January 17, 2008


The high school drama department's role as an Island of Misfit Toys for socially isolated youth has led to more adult children living at home than the last three mini-recessions combined.

Humph, the drama geeks I know tend to be the smartest and most active in school activities. Lack of social skills is not something I recognize as being caused as drama departments- if anything, it's the reverse. Obviously, YMMV.
posted by jmd82 at 10:21 AM on January 17, 2008


dude, it actually has more to do with the fact that I went to college infested with theatre majors for two years and had to hear the Broadway soundtracks through the thin walls.

Trust me, the real theatre majors were just as annoyed as you. Some of us knew that Andew Lloyd Weber and Arthur Miller were in entirely different lines of work. Spectacle != theatre.

Also, what jmd82 said. ^
posted by regicide is good for you at 10:40 AM on January 17, 2008


You, like, CANNOT lack social skills and be in (or, well, any good at) Drama. I 2nd the "martest and most active in school activities" assertion whole-heartedly. My high school drama experience overlapped heavily with AP courses, Mock Trial, Knowledge Bowl, Journalism, and yielded a large network of friends that has survived these 11 years. Now, our plays may have sucked. That, I grant you. But our parties ruled.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:01 AM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh god did I hate theater kids. Fucking self-absorbed attention-whore prima donnas. The parties were good though. The girls were very easy. I defy a straight guy to go to a cast party and not get laid. Fish in a barrel.
posted by ND¢ at 12:08 PM on January 17, 2008


Re: the reemergence of movie musicals:

Also, there's the fact that movie musicals still seem to be the status quo in India, and the other fact that Indian culture, particularly its cinema and movie stars, is becoming increasingly visible in the US. I don't know what the next step is in that progression per se, but I do know I've seen more recent movie musicals, with and without Indian actors/characters, since Aishwarya made her international splash than I did before.
posted by lampoil at 2:34 PM on January 17, 2008


meekly backs away from this thread
posted by stagewhisper at 4:19 PM on January 17, 2008


I probably shouldn't be responding (see the thread in metatalk about anonymity) or maybe I should break my own ethical code and get a sock puppet account to protect my job, but eh. I'll live dangerously just this once and see what the fallout is. If I still get work, maybe I'll start answering some of those askme relationship questions as well. It could be my own personal version of the red sports car as a panacea for a midlife crisis.

But I digress.

The level of sweeping generalizations and dislike for professional theater (especially musical theater) in this thread is perturbing. fourcheesemac, I've often enjoyed your generally well-reasoned (though sometimes rather heated), thought provoking posts and consider you one of the smarter people 'round these parts. Shades of gray don't seem to throw you often, so the whole "waste em all, let god sort them out" thing above is leaving me stymied, to say the least.

I never saw Rent. I had no interest- from the outside it sounded like a commodified, romanticized repacking of a certain type of alternative culture, with poverty in the mix, and that its sole purpose was to repackage that culture and sell it back to the kids in the suburbs. The Hot Topic of musicals, if you will.

I was not down with that, having recently been dirt poor, living illegally in a loft without heat in the dead of winter and with only intermittent electricity. However I am not qualified to actually pass judgment on it, having never actually seen the damn thing. See where this is heading? Anyway, my grindcore loving stepson liked it enough to see it more than three times. Then again, his mom was in the original cast of Hair, so his education in the genre of musicals is probably a bit better than mine.

(I digress again).

Theater in general, musicals being one form of theater, is simply an art form like any other. When I hear people rejoicing about the imminent death of theater (I believe this slow agonizing decline has been happening as long as the Problem With The Youth Of Today has) it strikes me no differently than if I were hearing "Finally! No more painting! Hurruh!", or "Seeya music, don't let the door hit your arse on the way out", or "Die dance, Die!"

There is great theater, there is good theater, there is bad theater, and everything else in between.

There are good, maybe even great musicals, and there are ok musicals, and there are horrendous, disastrous, embarrassingly bad musicals.

I think the problem with musicals in particular is that there are so many elements thrown into the Suspension of Disbelief Stew that the chance of coming up with something unappetizing is a lot higher. Beacuse of this, Broadway Musicals tend to serve up strictly middle-of-the-road fare. One look at the lines waiting to see a show explains why- it's a matter of economic survival for the producers of these shows to not put anything offensive on the plate of people who are, in general, accustomed to bland fare. It's a vicious circle. That doesn't mean that a great production or an amazing performance never sneaks through, though. Never in a million years did I think I Am My Own Wife would end up on Broadway while I was working on it.

How many people in this thread have ever seen a good, challenging, well-acted professional theatrical performance? The experience is akin to suddenly discovering a piece of music or art that feels life-altering at the time.

lampoil mentions Angels in America.
I saw Oscar Eustis's staging of parts 1 and 2 years ago at Trinity Rep. I sat in the theater at the end of the show with tears streaming down my face and I thought "This. This is what I should be doing." I didn't have a theater background, (I'm not sure a short stint in the chorus line of Disney On Ice after college counts), I'd never been to any previous professional productions, and until then I was heading down the career path of teaching college level fine art.

This sounds like prosthletizing, doesn't it? Fear not, people who love theater tend to be pretty critical of a lot of the work in it. I've participated on the production side in some real clunkers, especially musicals. Sometimes the pieces don't all come together despite the pedigrees of all those involved. More often than not this isn't usually due to greed, or commercial forces, or "selling out", or any of those usual scapegoats. This summer I was involved in the production of 3 new musicals. The first was by a writer/director whose greatest achievement on paper to date was participating in the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest, the second musical was the latest rock opera by a famous guitar-smashing musician, and the last was the product of a much-heralded artistic partnership between a writer/director with an academy award, a tony award, and a pulitzer prize to his name, and a tony award nominated, academy award nominated, grammy winning song writer.

The resulting musicals ranged from quite enjoyable to nearly insufferable. Exactly in the order listed above.

Something that might look sort of lame in script or concept form on first read often metamorphoses into something beautiful, or spectacular, or hilarious through the shared vision of good writers, directors, actors, designers, and all of the little parts that make up the whole. (Grey Gardens, I'm looking at *you*). Sometimes something that starts out with incredible promise and high expectations struggles under the weight of its own aspirations. (A Lot Of Shows, I'm looking at *you*, but I'd like to still have a job tomorrow).

This is the beautiful thing about live theater, and why it's still a viable art form in our current world of simulated 3d realities and digital images. The word live. Every production, and within every production every performance, takes on a life of its own. For better or (just as often) for worse.
posted by stagewhisper at 5:56 PM on January 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Why not place the blame on the unions then?

Oh, come on. It's hardly like you make a huge amount as a union stagehand or musician or grip or whatever. When you are working, you make quite a bit -- but you spend a lot of time not working -- and you spend years working dreadful jobs off-Broadway to get to the position where you can finally get those union positions.

The biggest expense that's killing Broadway? That's killing independent theatre? it's..... rent! or at least real estate costs. Who can afford to keep a multiple thousand square foot, multiple floor space in midtown Manhattan prices
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:12 PM on January 17, 2008


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