“RENT” Live on Fox

Duana Posted by Duana at May 15, 2017 18:30:31 May 15, 2017 18:30:31

Alert, Oregon Trail Generation*, this is not a drill. Fox has announced that RENT will be its next live musical (along with A Christmas Story, which I like, but… never thought of as a musical?). Take a second with that. Call back every angst-filled lyric you memorized and practiced and tearfully belted out in your room, and defiantly four-part–harmonized in the hallways at school when you were surrounded by your friends and the sniffs that ‘drama kids are so annoying’ couldn’t touch you.

‘Light My Candle’
‘Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes’
…. ‘No Day But Today’

I felt excited about this, and then I felt a bit silly. After all, RENT has not been untouched by time. First of all there’s the movie. I remember being SO excited to see it, bouncing and giggling in my seat with my friend, and before the opening number was finished we were… subdued, and then just straight up disappointed. The magic didn’t make it to the screen, even though all the details were just right.

Then there’s the fact that a lot of the show’s subject matter just isn’t as present as it was then. After all, the Gen Xers who were protesting Benny’s rent hikes are now mild, obedient middle managers. Winona Ryder famously (and convincingly!) played a mom last year. 90s angst and apathy seems so outdated it might not even make it into history (who is going to admit that we used to sing things like ‘Novocain for the soul’ and think people would take our ‘pain’ seriously?). Plus, there’s the fact that the show focuses largely—depending on your interpretation, entirely—around the immediacy of life in the face of “The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome”. 

I don’t think I will ever ‘get used to’ the fact that what HIV/AIDS means now, in 2017, is so completely different from what we were brought up to think it meant 20 years ago. There’s no blame to lay there—that’s just how much we knew then. But it means that RENT, which seemed for sure like it was always going to be modern and topical, has become a tiny bit more of a historical piece… which takes nothing away from its actual messages of valuing life and the people you love all of the time, not just when you’re called to do so on the calendar.

The music holds up—as sing-able in or out of context as it ever was. The diversity of cast and the stories are as relatable as they ever were, with a couple of exceptions:

1. Forgive me, but did Santa Fe ever become a thing?
2. Voicemails. Even moms don’t leave them anymore… mostly.

So can the show survive a transition to one-night-only TV? In so many ways, it encouraged people not to be cynical, and given that I’m writing this roughly 20 years after I first fell in love with the show, I need to hear the message as much as anyone. On the one hand, it’s a little of-its-time and not quite old enough to be ‘vintage’, but then again, it’s kind of a spiritual godparent to pop culture phenomena like Dear Evan Hansen and 13 Reasons Why, so it’s more relevant than maybe I give it credit for.

In fact, I realize it’s tame enough by today’s standards, give or take a little euphemistic/sanitized heroin, that the show is perfect for parents, who might have been fans of it, to share with their kids, for whom it will be vintage at best.

God, what a terrifying thought.

*(or Gen X/Millenial hybrids, if you prefer)

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