As I’m sure you’ve already heard, the long-running musical RENT will have its final performance on Broadway on September 7th. As a result, there’s been a slew of RENT-related events which have caused old-timer RENTheads like myself to come out of the woodwork. (One such event was the GMA Summer Concert series a few weeks ago where both the current Broadway cast and Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp performed songs.)
So you can imagine how chuffed I was to be able to attend a special performance of the current Broadway production of RENT at the Nederlander Theater on 41st Street last Wednesday. What made the show special was the fact that it was being filmed to be used in a future “Hot Ticket” theatrical release in movie theaters at the end of September (the 24, 25, 27, 28, to be exact). The final performance on September 7th will also be filmed and the best moments from each of the nights will be composited for the final cut of the film.
Setting up for the taping.
When I showed up to the theater around 7PM, there were giant movie trucks parked outside the Nederlander, and heavy cables ran across the sidewalk and into the theater. As I entered into the orchestra area, I noticed the Nederlander was the same as I remembered it, but quite different–several rows had been removed from the theater, allowing for two cameras on tracks to be placed a few rows back from the stage. And from what I could tell there were also five other stationary cameras and two mobile hand-held camera roaming around the stage.
Supervising producer Chris Rouchard kicked-off the event by giving a little talk to the audience, notifying us that there would be starts and stops through the performance whenever things needed to be re-shot or set up.
I have to say, after many many years without seeing the stage production of RENT, I was a little anxious to see how I would feel seeing the show after all this time. I thought perhaps I’d be bored, or I would feel overly nostalgic. But sure enough, as soon as the opening strains of “Tune Up #1” started, I was back in “the zone”–by the time “RENT” started, I was grooving in my seat, tapping my foot, and nodding my head to the music. “Man, I still really love this show,” I thought to myself.
The current cast was quite entertaining–particularly Will Chase as Roger and Eden Espinosa as Maureen who were both excellent and added their own stamp on the well-worn characters. Justin Johnston as Angel was good, as was Michael McElroy, who I’d seen several times as Collins in the late 1990s, and Tracie Thoms as Joanne. Adam Kantor did a fine job as Mark, although his delivery was quite reminiscent of original Broadway cast member Anthony Rapp. Renee Elise Goldsberry had the difficult task of taking on Mimi, a role which has been quite unkind to actresses over the year due to the complex emotions and natural stage charisma required for the role. Although she was not as great as someone like Daphne Rubin-Vega or the original London Mimi, Krysten Cummings, she was sufficient.
While the performance was going on, the show made me so happy–but the curious thing was that the show was making me happy in a totally different way than it had when I was a teenager seeing the musical. When I was a teen I loved the music, the rebellious nature of the characters, and the seemingly cool and “edgy” East Village location.
Now, as an adult, seeing the show with more mature eyes and more life experience, the emotions and relationships in the show resonated in such a way they never had for me before. It was such a rewarding experience to know that the musical I had loved so much as a young adult was still relevant, and as a whole the material still stood up to the test of time. (I will say, the costumes definitely look dated at this point, and some of the references are hilariously indicative of the mid-nineties–brick-like cell phones, mentions of CBGBs, the Pyramid Club, “cyber” studios, and …er… Range Rovers as status cars.)
So for long-time fans of the musical, I would definitely recommend heading down to the Nederlander in these last few days of the Broadway stage production and revisiting a show that is still as vibrant and moving as it was the day it opened on the Great White Way in 1996. Of course if you cannot see the show in person, seeing the taped version that will be shown in movie theaters across the country at the end of September is definitely the next best thing.
After the show I was lucky enough to head to the after party and throw a few questions at some of the current cast members (who had been taping since noon that day) about what being in RENT meant to them. Ensemble member Andrea Goss, who only graduated from Syracuse University only a year ago, recounted that she had been a fan or RENT prior to seeing the show, and that it had a particularly special meaning to her as it was actually the first Broadway show she’d ever seen. Eden Espinosa mentioned that even though the current cast had often times been overshadowed by events involving the original Broadway cast (I would imagine she was referencing the OBC appearance on the most recent Tony Awards, and even the performance between Adam and Anthony at the GMA concert event), that it was rewarding to be a part of this final cast and have their performance recorded for posterity–that it was validation for all the hard work they had been doing all this time.
On the way out the door I managed to catch original and current Broadway cast member, the magnificent Gwen Stewart, whose “Seasons of Love” solo still manages to send chills down my spine. The New Jersey native, who recently moved back to the East Coast from LA (and had to finagle her way out of two contracts with other musicals) in order to be in the final Broadway cast of RENT, said that as soon as she heard about the closing knew she wanted to be in the show one last time. Stewart, who definitely has a better costume wardrobe the second time around, said she doesn’t have an immediate plans after the show ends, but would LOVE to be invited to be a part of the new national tour alongside fellow OBC members Anthony and Adam. (“Spread the word!,” she exclaimed, fingers crossed.)
It’s still hard to imagine that after September 7th the Nederlander will no longer house the musical that had such a significant influence on my teenage years… that an institution of American theater, after 12 years, will no longer have life breathed into it nearly every night of the week. It’s definitely the end of an era, and more than just a tad bit sad, but I along with every person who’s life has been touched by the music and lyrics of Jonathan Larson will agree, the spirit of RENT will live on in the hearts and minds of its fans.