There are certain things in life that just sit with you. Maybe it's a song, maybe it's a scene in your favorite movie, or maybe it's a painting filled with color and life. Whatever "it" is, it rounds out your life and makes the journey a little easier to bear.
For me, it's an entire musical. Rent, the history-making rock musical based on Puccini's opera La Boheme, came to the IU Auditorium Nov. 13 and 14, and the experience filled a hole in my life that I didn't even know existed.
While I was already familiar with the music and storyline from the movie version that came out in 2005, I knew I needed to see it live to get the full experience. Well, I went, and I fell in love with the production all over again.
Rent, written by the late Jonathan Larson, opened in 1996 and is based in New York City's East Village during the late 1980s and the rising AIDS epidemic. The plot centers around two roommates, aspiring filmmaker Mark and washed up musician Roger, and the events (and people) that happen to them over the course of one year.
Roger, who is coping with AIDS himself, meets a young heroin junkie-slash-stripper-slash-AIDS victim named Mimi on Christmas Eve, and the two begin a torrid love affair that provides much of the backbone for the production.
Much of these plot factors are borrowed heavily from La Boheme, including but not limited to names, character relationships, and personal struggles. Where La Boheme deals with tuberculosis, "Rent" deals with AIDS, and so on. But while La Boheme is touching and romantic, Rent truly connects, because the characters live in same world that we do and encounter many of the same issues we face in the modern world.
With the dominant themes of appreciating life, loving yourself and those around you and surviving in an age "where strangers, landlords, lovers, your own blood cells betray," the messages reach out from the stage and connect with the audience in ways other musicals do not.
It's a fantasy that flirts with reality, and you leave the production with a greater appreciation of life and a sense of purpose. "Forget regret, or life is yours to miss," as the song goes. With all this in mind, the rendition I attended definitely delivered.
While the set couldn't hold a candle to that of the recent IU Opera Theater's production of La Boheme (pardon the reference), it was raw and gritty and fit the theme of the production perfectly. What seemed to be a loft or ceiling was constructed of junk, there were no real props and most scenes used the same set pieces over and over.
But instead of relying on the set to provide the context, the actors did a fantastic job of painting the picture for the audience with actions and words (or songs), which was impressive, as I only really knew the show in the context of Hollywood and "movie magic."
Some of the more notable songs of the night were "Life Support," "La Vie Boheme," the classic "Seasons of Love," and "Without You" (which brought me to tears). There are so many great songs in the production, but in a live setting they are only as good as the actors who sing them.
That said, a few of my favorite songs didn't sound quite as good with this cast. "One Song Glory," sung by the character Roger, sounded a little too refined and thin for a song that's supposed to be gritty and haunting. "I'll Cover You: Reprise," which is usually a song that makes me teary with no problem, left me pretty dry due to character Tom Collins' weak and unfavorably high vocal range. The original recording is definitely better in that regard, but in general I feel the role could have been casted better.
But aside from those issues, the rest of the production was awesome. Mark's role as narrator and storyteller was full of life and energy, and his voice had a very nice tonality. Mimi started a little on the weak side and had some flat notes here and there, but she blew me away with her emotional interpretation "Goodbye, Love." Anybody who cries like that while singing gets me every time.
And the overall unity of the cast made the actions and plotlines very believable - they really looked and felt like the ad-hoc family they called themselves in the story.
Overall, this tour of Rent was a pretty amazing one and good for a first-time viewing. For someone who only knows the recording and the movie, I was happy with what I saw, and there's no doubt that I'll see it again in the future.
But honestly, even if this version didn't perform as well as it did, I'd still see it again. It's just one of those shows.
Caitlin Brase can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.