More than a decade ago, in 1996, my best friend Brent and I had only two things on our minds: Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill, and a little rock musical double-disc soundtrack called Rent.
We. Loved. Rent. Couldn’t get enough. The word “obsession” is applicable.
We were two good little boys in the Midwest—thirteen-year-old former boys’ choir members—but when we got our hands on that soundtrack it was like a musical crack transaction. We knew every word of every song, learning each actor’s breathing, cadence, and delivery.
Walking down the street we’d break into Angel’s “Today 4 U” rap (so ingrained was it that I can still do the whole thing) or wildly duet Roger and Mark’s “What You Own” or “Take Me Or Leave Me” at the top of our lungs in the living room. How our parents didn’t know immediately that there was something, um, “special” about their boys is beyond me.
All of that nostalgia may be part of why I loved seeing Rent so much last night on Broadway. Anthony Rapp, the original production’s Mark, and Adam Pascal, the original Roger, have returned to the Nederlander Theater to reprise their characters in a special six-week summer run.
The audience must have shared the nostalgia, revering the soundtrack and poster art during teen and twenty-something years, because when Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal stepped on stage the screaming and applause was deafening. It was beyond anything I’ve ever heard on Broadway—more than Spring Awakening, more than Grey Gardens, and rivaling that of a rock concert—and the actors had to hold for almost thirty seconds until Anthony cut us off by beginning the show over the din.
I felt like I was a teenager again, breathlessly listening to the soundtrack in a Midwestern basement. The boy who had read the press clippings about endless lines of theatergoers at the Nederlander was suddenly there. The voices I grew up listening to on the soundtrack came to life, performing in front of me. Over the years my love for Rent dissipated and collected a layer of dust, but as soon as Anthony and Adam opened their mouths, it all came flooding back.
Anthony and Adam are in thirties now, but neither has aged significantly, and their voices were on point. (Adam, I should mention, still oozes boho sex appeal.) And when Adam ripped into “One Song Glory”? I almost passed out.
Tamyra Gray, the American Idol finalist from Kelly Clarkson’s season, played Mimi, of which I was initially suspicious. But as soon as she started singing I knew it was going to be alright. The girl is a vocal powerhouse. Indeed, she attacked “Out Tonight”, Mimi’s piece de resistance, with such verve that she became an instant favorite.
I do have to be honest: Some of the show felt a little . . . off. Maureen was played almost as a slapstick stand-up comedian instead of as an ambitious, slyly comedic sex kitten. Collins fell flat. And, frankly, sometimes the show felt like it suffered from Xerox Syndrome: It’s been done so many times that it feels like we’re watching copies of copies of copies. Occasionally a certain dullness surfaced.
Nevertheless, the show is a milestone in musical theater history, and was a turning point for many gays and lesbians in their youth. And seeing the show with Anthony and Adam? Now that’s priceless. The raucous, seemingly endless standing ovation said it all.
Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal are in the show as Mark and Roger through September 9. You can get $65 tickets at TKTS or, if you’re a college student, you can get $25 lottery seats.