Before there were Fanadus (Xanadu fans), before there were The Guilty Ones – AKA Spring Awakening fans, and yes, I’ve warmed to the show since I wrote that review – there were the Rentheads. And once upon a time, dear PopWatchers, I was one of them. Well, maybe not a rabid one (though ten visits to the Nederlander Theatre ain’t too shabby), but upon hearing that the late Jonathan Larson’s Rent, currently the seventh-longest running show in Broadway history, would pay the fiddler on June 1st, I couldn’t help but be a little verklempt. After all, this was my generation’s Hair, the musical that proved you could be a total East Village slacker, refuse to pay your bills on time, and turn your staid local diner into Coyote Ugly…just because! Sure, Rent had some clunky lyrics: “You’ll be my Queen / and I’ll be your moat” (i.e., you be royalty and I’ll be brown, crappy crocodile water?). But it was the show’s moving, soulful spirit, and soaring rock score that kept it chugging along for 12 years. Here are my top five memories of the show’s many Seasons of Love.
1. On my virgin trip, immediately after Rent bowed on Broadway in April ‘96, I passed by none other than Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman on their way to the loo. They had orchestra seats, and I was front mezz, and that dude from The Single Guy was in the rear mezz, but the man sitting next to me was unimpressed. (“If it isn’t Barbra Streisand, I don’t care”, he carped. Ah, theater folk.)
2. This show turns grown men into wusses. My third trip was with my mom, who observed that both I and the giant, 6’4” football player-type dude to her left, sobbed like babies when rock ‘n’ roll Roger sang “Your Eyes” to a dying Mimi.
3. Maureen’s big ol’ white butt in “La Vie Boheme” – my first encounter with female nudity onstage. And nobody’s butt was whiter than Idina Menzel’s. But what a talented butt it was! See for yourself! (NSFW, though it’s bare for mere seconds.)
4. In 2005, while waiting on the lottery-drawing line for $20 front-row seats – the primary way I saw the show so many times over the years – I overheard the lottery organizer guy describe the show. “It’s a story about these guys…they live together, they’re best friends…one of them is gay, the others are like, hey, you’re a fag, no big deal….” I had to step away after that.
5. When I heard that Chris Columbus (and not Spike Lee, who’s even mentioned in the show!) was to direct the long-gestating film, my reaction was not unlike Molly Ringwald’s in Sixteen Candles when her grandmother suggests that Long Duk Dong accompany her to the school dance.