The Streaming Experience: 25 Years of RENT -Measured in Love
Over a quarter century ago, a wise and talented Jonathan Larson delivered to the door of the New York Theatre Workshop a request and a proposal, to give a young artist and his musical, RENT, a chance and a space to thrive. The newly relocated theatre company was just about to open its doors on East 4th St. to a neighbourhood that is basically the beating heart of this wildly wonderful rock musical. Larson believed, as this strong and emotionally engaging virtual presentation for NYTW, 25 YEARS OF RENT: MEASURED IN LOVE states most beautifully, that this theatre and its community is where his rock adaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème truly belonged. The East Village was a place that fostured a strong and constantly evolving history of creating scrappy art and culture, and within those theatre walls and on that stage lived a place where his musical would thrive. It fit with the themes of his show, which spoke most passionately to a time, place, and movement that is etched inside and resonates throughout his music and lyrics. So, in 1996, thanks to some brave minds at NYTW, that seed was planted and given the room to grow. From these humble beginnings, the groundbreaking musical, RENT, found its way upward and outward. We see and hear about that birth, and feel in its bones that the show was “truly loved, cause it was conceived in Love.” Sadly Larson didn’t live to see the opening night at this downtown Off-Broadway theatre. Larson died suddenly at the age 35 of an aortic aneurysm the night before RENT’s first preview, but the rock musical went on, fueled by the same passion that created it, shaping a generation with its spectacular (award-winning) glory; a generation that included me as one of its ardent fans. After beginning its life in my first NYC neighbourhood, the East Village, the show flew itself up to Broadway, winning four Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for its creator, before travelling across the nation and around the world, living and breathing the love that was at its heart and core.
On March 2, 2021, NYTW held their biggest fundraising event of the year, 25 YEARS OF RENT: MEASURED IN LOVE. This virtual celebration of RENT and its impact on the collective cultural consciousness is of the greatest importance, as it and all the other theatres around the world are struggling to survive. The fundraiser features a selection of iconic songs by some of today’s most beloved recording and theatre artists, exclusive content uncovering how RENT came to life, and reflections on the driving force of Jonathan’s legacy in the American theatre. It’s a nonstop feast of glorious performances, tender recollections, and heartfelt proclamations. One such moment is with Abigal Bengson who shared her the love she has for NYTW, because without their support, we might also never have seen and heard the glorious Hundred Days on that East Village stage. She reminds us all of the great need we have for the daring theatre company that brought us RENT, and for the joy and excitement it can bring to the stage, and into our hearts and minds.
The fundraising event will also bring tears of love, joy, and loss to your eyes as it did to mine time and time again. It reminds us of tragedy and loss, something akin to reading the heart-breaking “The World Only Spins Forward” about the creation of Tony Kushner’s epic masterpiece Angels in America. But, here in this artfully produced (sometimes tech-plagued) presentation, we are gifted with the added power and sorrow of his dynamic songs, performed by the likes of Christopher Jackson (Broadway’s Hamilton) bringing “Glory; From the pretty boy front man” with his rendition of “One Song“; Ali Stroker (Broadway’s Oklahoma) and Tracie Thoms (Broadway’s Falsettos) delivering the “Take Me or Leave Me” goods most spectacularly; Ben Platt (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen) finding the heartbreak within “Without You” (even while making us miss the duet harmonies of the original that come later); Eva Noblezada (Broadway’s Hadestown) flying so high while wanting to go “Out Tonight“; and Billy Porter (Broadway’s Kinky Boots) giving us all the most intoxicating and endearing “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)”.
The epic pain and the glory of Porter’s performance echoes the difficult balance that exists in this show, and in the history of RENT. Larson’s sudden death is a moment that will go down as one of the most heart-breaking in musical theatre history. With that tragedy at its center, the presentation is filled to the brim with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews that will fill your heart with love, and your eyes with tears. The original Broadway ensemble tells us most engagingly about how the show changed their lives, and what his death meant to them personally and for the show spiritually. And in that love is where we find the soul of the NYTW fundraiser. It is a gift to us all, delivering a thoughtful dedication to the memory of Larson, his unquestionable genius, as well as a pure unadulterated show of adoration for his beautifully powerful and touching musical. The 90 minute piece honors Larson (Tick, Tick…BOOM!) with a simple honest beauty, in the same way he honored his friends from the East Village, who were living and breathing the life of the Bohemian, creating art, while also battling, “living, and not dying from disease“. It’s creation and birth is all about artistry and determination, but also about love and loss. Directed by Andy Señor, Jr., the documentary filled me completely, ushering me back to the time when this young theatre junkie found himself overflowing with tears in the balcony of the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway back in 1996 (the show opened on April 29, 1996). It was a moment of connection that I will never forget, and I love this NYTW virtual recorded fundraiser for taking me back to that place and time. Holding my hand. Allowing me to cry once again for RENT‘s savage beauty, its utter brilliance, for the loss of its creator, and all the others who died from AIDS who I knew (or didn’t know). So Text NYTW to 24365 and donate to keep the future of theatre alive and well. And while we are at, here’s to: “Emotion, devotion, to causing a commotion; Creation, vacation; Mucho masturbation; Compassion, to fashion, to passion when it’s new; To Sontag; To Sondheim; To anything taboo… To fruits, to no absolutes…To any passing fad; To being an us for once, instead of a them; La vie Boheme.” Thank you, NYTW, the magnificent Jonathan Larson, and everyone involved in the wondrous creation of RENT, it is and was life-changing.
25 YEARS OF RENT: MEASURED IN LOVE was held virtually on March 2 at 8pm EST. Stream the entire recorded event by purchasing a streaming pass, valid through March 6th at 8pm EST.
Directed by Andy Señor, Jr.
Musical Supervision by Stephen Oremus
Musical Direction by Will Van Dyke
Produced in association with Heredia Vision
Video production and editing by ZANNI Productions
March 2, 2021—March 6, 2021
With performances by:
Gilles Chiasson · Wilson Jermaine Heredia · Rodney Hicks · Christopher Jackson · Kristen Lee Kelly · Tamika Lawrence · Jesse L. Martin · Idina Menzel · Aiko Nakasone · Eva Noblezada · Adam Pascal · Ben Platt · Billy Porter · Anthony Rapp · Daphne Rubin-Vega · Ali Stroker · Tracie Thoms · Byron Utley · Fredi Walker-Browne
Original compositions from:
Joe Iconis · The Lazours · Pasek & Paul · Rona Siddiqui
Sebastian Arcelus · Annaleigh Ashford · Martha Banta · Adam Chanler-Berat · Linda Chapman · Nicholas Christopher · Paul Clay · Wilson Cruz · Brandon Victor Dixon · Wendy Ettinger · Stephen Graham · Michael Greif · Janet Harckham · Jeremy O. Harris · Neil Patrick Harris · Victoria Leacock Hoffman · Mariko Kojima · Julie Larson · Telly Leung · Kamilah Marshall · Kevin McCollum · Lin-Manuel Miranda · Anaïs Mitchell · Shakina Nayfack · James C. Nicola · Dael Orlandersmith · Councilmember Carlina Rivera · Jai Rodriguez · Jeffrey Seller · Leigh Silverman · Ephraim Sykes · Bernie Telsey · Jennifer Ashley Tepper · Ivo van Hove · Tom Viola · Tim Weil · Angela Wendt · Marlies Yearby · And many more!