When: June 26-July 26 2009
Jonathan Larson’s Rent opens at Playhouse on the Square this week. Based on La Bohème, Giacomo Puccini’s tragic opera about love in the time of tuberculosis, Rent is the defining musical of the 1990s.
But Rent is also Generation X’s maudlin answer to the Baby Boomers’ Hair. Both shows are massive generational touchstones, imbued with a sense of righteousness and activism. Both musicals embrace pop music and contemporary youth culture in ways that made them instant period pieces, attempting — with varying degrees of success — to make the characters onstage look and sound exactly like the audiences the shows’ creators were chasing. Though radically different in terms of style and released nearly 30 years apart, the two self-consciously multicultural musicals also have strikingly similar messages: Stop the killing and celebrate love. Hair was a reaction to the Vietnam War, while Rent put people living with AIDS in the spotlight.
As was the case with Hair, Rent felt like forced nostalgia by the time it was translated into film, 10 years after its original opening. As time capsules from relatively recent times, both movies seemed out of fashion but not quite yet historical.
This latest live incarnation of Rent is helmed by director/choreographer Courtney Oliver, the Gen-X performer who delivered a show-stopping rendition of “Easy To Be Hard” as Sheila in Playhouse’s post-9/11 production of Hair. She knows a little something about cultural touchstones. — Chris Davis