Rent reviewed by Jonathan Groce
In an age, where homosexuality is caught between casual acceptance and continuing stereotypes, the wonderful musical RENT provides a model society that pushes today's generation to ambient acceptance. Jonathan Larson's triumphant 1996 rock-opera is brave, emotional and dignified in its treatment of homosexuals, bisexuals, and all alternative lifestyles. Though a few years old, the RENT phenomenon has no signs of wear. Last month, when it came to my town of Jacksonville FL, it became my first "queen" musical - the loose definition for a musical in which all words/lyrics are memorized. I knew of RENT since its Broadway arrival in early 96, but in the year 2000 I got to actually experience it, not once, not twice, not thrice, but FOUR times in one week. What I encountered was life-altering.
For those not familiar with RENT, the musical opens on Christmas Eve in New York City with Mark and Roger, struggling artists who have no heat, no eats, and can't afford to pay rent. Their former roommate now owns the building they reside in, and is threatening to force "eviction or pay". In addition, an ex-roommate, Collins, calls to tell them he is on his way after returning from his failed attempt at teaching computer philosophy at MIT. However, Collins gets beaten on his way, and the only one to help him is Angel, a drag queen. Angel and Collins immediately hit it off. Meanwhile, the opera tells us of the exasperating relationship between Joanne and Mark's ex-girlfriend, Maureen.
Thus, in RENT, Larson creates relationships which celebrate the life and love between people, not characters. These are not stereotypes. Collins acts completely straight, although you can imagine I hate to use that term. More or less, he acts like a man. His love for Angel drives him, and they sing a sweet duet, "I'll Cover You", that makes no specific references to the fact that they are two men, but only to two people in love. Oh, yeah, they both have AIDS as well. The impact of these lovers comes from the disease that will ultimately take Angel, not the orientation of their sexual preferences. Larson has given us a relationship that breaks barriers, outlives stereotypes, and focuses on love.
As the parallel gay couple in RENT, Joanne and Maureen bicker throughout due to their obvious differences. Joanne is high-class liberal. Maureen is from Jersey and a performance artist. Joanne is anal retentive, Maureen the exact opposite. Joanne is black, Maureen white. No matter, despite their fights, caused usually by Maureen's flirting with other women, they love each other. The musical is a testament to their fights and make-ups, and the ultimate love they share is beautiful, yet simple. Furthermore, the lesbian duo obviously compliment any "straight" opposite-attract lovelines.
Mixing these relationships with the centerpiece of Roger and Mimi (who literally knocks on his door looking for a match in "Light My Candle"), Larson wrote relationships that are bawdy, but real. Flavored with risqué language, naughty stage direction, and homosexual embraces, the musical shocks only those so far caught up in a dying generation of 50 yrs ago. The youth of America knows that RENT is a testament of living with love, pain, AIDS, drugs, no money, but dreams. Despite a stereotypical queer waiter (who gets many laughs with his antics), the central cast is so emotionally powerful and luminous, that they will last in productions for years, and generations.
My name is Jonathan Groce. On the edge of seventeen, I attend Stanton College Preparatory Highschool. A self-proclaimed connoisseur of film, TV, and musical theatre, I basically spend my time working, studying, catching the latest indy flick, writing the latest article I think about, buying CDs, or shopping. I guess I discovered my homosexuality as far back as 5th grade, but age 16 was the year I vowed my friends would know. Now, after a year of drama with friends, school peers, and the dreaded family confrontation, I look to college excited, and to my relationship with Chris. RENT is my favorite musical, and I never stop listening to the OBCR. Thank You. Filmjguy1@aol.com