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It’s late early 1997, and I’ve just left AOL, and moved back to NYC. Living in my parents’ basement, I set out one day to the Nederlander Theatre at 10am, to wait on a freezing cold line to get “poor-student tickets” as they called them, to a new and completely different type of Broadway show called Rent.
Based somewhat on La Boheme, this new type of musical redefined what the Broadway experience could be, and introduced millions of people to Broadway, people who’d never before thought they’d see a Broadway show. In fact, with& an ethnically diverse cast, Rent tackled concepts very rare for “conservative” musical theatre, including homelessness, gay and lesbian issues, and coming of age in the time of AIDS.
Composed by Jonathan Larson, who tragically died of an aneurysm just a few hours before the show’s first preview, Rent became an immediate sensation, and is currently the seventh longest running show on Broadway.
I remember buying the soundtrack and learning every word to every song. In fact, two tracks, Christmas Bells and La Vie Boheme A, are both staples on my running mix. In addition, the words are so powerful, I remember an older woman, a tourist visiting New York from Montana, I believe, coming up to me at Intermission the first time I saw the show, and asking what spoke to me so strongly, as she noticed me watching, sometimes with tears, sometimes in awe, as I mouthed every word to myself during the performance.
The cast was amazing, as well – a collection of stars including Anthony Rapp, who prior to rent, was best known (to me, at least,) as Daryl Coopersmith, the annoying, girl-crazy best friend from the 1980s romp Adventures in Babysitting.
I remember a New Year’s Eve party I threw in… 1997, I guess, where all my friends are over and we’re all singing La Vie Boheme. It couldn’t have been timed better if it were shot from a script, my best friend Andrew walks into frame as we shout out “Pee-Wee Herman” and walks out of frame as we move to the next verse. To this day that video makes me laugh.
Rent closes in June. See it once more, if you can.