Join Prism Book Alliance® as Jeff Adams goes Outside the Margins today.
As I write this on Monday, January 25, 1996, the musical Rent hits its 20th anniversary milestone. It’s also the 20th anniversary of the passing of its creator, Jonathan Larson. For those who don’t know the story, Larson left the final dress rehearsal of the show at the New York Theatre Workshop, gave an interview to a New York Times reporter, went home and passed away from an an aortic dissection.
The musical, which is based on the opera La Boheme, went on to win numerous awards in the 1995-96 season, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, one of only eight musicals (so far) to ever win that honor.
Why do I write about this here?
Because this show had a huge impact on me as a twenty-something, newly out gay man.
Despite being a long-time musical fan—I can remember falling in love with the cast album of A Chorus Line somewhere around the sixth grade—nothing rocked my world quite like Rent. I’d seen and heard many shows by 1996, from classics like The Sound of Music and West Side Story to the hits of the day like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera and rock musicals such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Rent, however, was a right now, ripped-from-the-headlines musical with a rock score that also paid tribute to musical theatre history. It featured a racially and sexually diverse set of characters who were only a couple years younger than me. The AIDS crisis was front and center as both gay and straight characters were living with the disease. But, even if the face of that, it was a story about love and connection. (Heads up: There are some spoilers below, so if you’ve never seen the show you may want to jump ahead and read the last six paragraphs.)
This passage happens early in the show between two men:
Angel: Yes, this body provides a comfortable home / For the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
Collins: As does mine
Angel: Wow, we’ll get along fine
Then, before the first act is over, as Roger and Mimi are trying to start their relationship they divulge their statuses:
Mimi: AZT break
Mimi: Me. You?
And they, along with several others on stage, take their pills.
One of the centerpieces of Rent for me is the love story between Collins and Angel. The two meet and go out on Christmas Eve and their love shines brightly for ten months, a beacon of hope for their friends who have troubled relationships. “I’d be happy to die for a taste of what Angel had / Someone to live for, unafraid to say I love you,” some of the cast sings just after Angel’s funeral.
I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve had that kind of love for more than twenty years now. I’m lucky that I get to write stories where I can create great loves that burn bright and last for decades.
Another major themes of Rent is “No Day But Today.” More than once in the show, these lyrics come up: “There’s only now / There’s only here / Give in to love / Or live in fear / No other path / No other way / No day but today.”
I took that message to heart and twenty years continue to try to spend my time doing things that I enjoy and spending time with the people that mean the most. It also means that I try—though I don’t always succeed—to not stress over the things I can’t control.
Given how the AIDS crisis has changed in the two decades since the show premiered, Rent can seem dated now. But it’s important to look past that to its timeless themes of love, friendship and connection that are just as valid now as they were in 1996.
If you’ve never seen the show, I highly recommend Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, which was recorded in September 2008 just before the show ended its Broadway run. It’s available on DVD as well as for purchase as a digital download. The movie version of Rent is the only way to see most of the original cast perform, and it has some good things going on in it, but it’s not as good as the filmed Broadway staging.
For a quick glimpse of the show, I’ll leave you with this YouTube link to the original cast at the 1996 Tony Awards. I was floored by this performance because I had no idea this could be on network television. Keep in mind this aired on a Sunday evening in the summer of 1996, on CBS, and features a lesbian couple kissing, two guys making out and lyrics that call out “to faggots, lezzies, dykes, cross dressers too” and “to people living with, living with, living with not dying from disease.” The cast and show producers pulled no punches with that performance.
Thank you, Jonathan Larson, for writing an amazing piece of work that I will hold close to me forever. Thanks to the original cast who embodied his work, made it soar and gave me inspiration for the way I want to live and the stories I want to tell.
About Jeff AdamsJeff Adams is the author of the Hat Trick series of young adult/new adult stories. He’s also the author of several m/m romance shorts. Jeff and his husband, Will, live in the rural peace of Northern California. Besides writing about hockey in many of his stories, he covers the Detroit Red Wings, and reviews books that feature gay hockey players, for PuckBuddys.com (http://www.PuckBuddys.com). You can learn all about Jeff’s writing at jeffadamswrites.com (http://www.jeffadamswrites.com/). You can also follow him on Twitter @hockeyguynyc https://twitter.com/hockeyguynyc). and sign up for his email list (http://eepurl.com/7TJC9) to get the latest updates.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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