It’s the end of an era, as well as a subtle indication of an entire generation getting old: the Broadway production of Rent is closing June 1st.
Which shouldn’t come as a surprise: tickets have been readily available for years. Last May, for instance, Jeff, Jamie, and I walked up to the box office fifteen minutes before curtain and got fifth-row seats…for 50% off (we didn’t even have to ask for the discount). The show was still electric – Jeff might disagree with this statement – but the audience had shrunk. The steady supply of Rentheads who made the musical one of the hottest tickets in Broadway history had been replaced by a theatre half-filled with tourists. That’s not to say they didn’t (or couldn’t) enjoy the show, but they probably didn’t take to it like Rent‘s original audience.
I’ve seen Rent an embarassing number of times (*coughelevencough*). Two years ago, after seeing it at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, I wrote a blog entry dimissing the new breed of Rentheads (of which, if I’m being perfectly honestly, I’m a part – remember, I was too young to be an “authentic” Renthead, although I did see the show for the first time barely a year after it opened). Call it snobbery, call it an ability to let go of “my” show – call it whatever you want, but Rent‘s audience was visibly changing, and while it was a perfectly reasonable (and, indeed, a perfectly natural) occurrence, some of the original magic, the restless energy which made Rent such a galvanizing experience, was gone. In short, Rent had become just another show, and in doing so have become dissociated from its original context (not to mention the story of Jonathan Larson, an inextricable part of Rent mythology). For people like me, it was a disconcerting evolution; we still loved the show, but our relationship with Rent had to change.
Today’s news, then, wasn’t entirely unexpected…but still, when I turned on iTunes and the first song was “One Song Glory” I got a lump in my throat. The song’s message – about creating a meaningful life before it’s too late – is one of the musical’s recurring motifs, as well as a theme which has always reverberated particularly strongly with its audience. Losing the Broadway production of Rent won’t mean an end to the show’s life – several productions are still running worldwide – but it does represent the end of an era. I’m glad I got to be a part of it.