*This post will be addressing the 2005 movie adaptation of the broadway musical since I have seen that five times in the past year but have not been able to ever see the actual broadway production
There are many many reasons why I believe Rent should be seen by almost everyone. Not to say that other musicals don’t have heavy hitting topics, because they do, but Rent is very much unlike no other because it takes on so many different and edgy topics all in one.
In two short hours we get to follow a group characters who are struggling to make it as artists in Alphabet City, Manhattan in the year from 1989-1990. But that’s really just to say the least. Almost all of the characters (all but two actually) are also in the LGBTQ community, battle drug addictions, and or fight HIV/AIDS. At the time these subjects were still fairly taboo, and even today they’re not necessarily most peoples preferred subjects to talk about. But they were, and are very real realities.
Rent allows you to take on these subjects in a new, modern, and very real perspective. I think to best exemplify this and draw you in, I’ll give a description of each of the main characters and what their life and struggles are like (doing my best of course to try not to give too many spoilers away).
Let’s start with who is probably the least problematic character, Mark Cohen.
Mark is a struggling film-maker who is living basically by the skins of his teeth. He, unlike the rest of the characters, has no direct personal ties to the aforementioned groups of people, he’s just surrounded by them. Because of that, his goal is to “document real life” and follow the conflicts and battles that his friends face on a daily basis and put it all into a documentary.
Roger is Marks roommate, a musician (and yes he’s also struggling to find success just like the rest of them), and HIV-positive. As an ex-addict who’s girlfriend died after finding out she was also HIV-positive, Roger is hesitant to pursue a relationship with anyone else, even with someone who he clearly adores.
Mimi is Roger’s love interest. She is a nineteen year old exotic dancer at a strip club, a heroin addict, and also HIV-positive. Mimi is probably one of the more problematic characters; though she tends to be happy and fun, the trials and tribulations she inevitably faces are very extreme.
Tom Collins is aMark and Rogers ex roommate, HIV-positive, and a scholar with a “teaching gig at NYU” who got expelled from MIT for his theory of “actual reality” (which is interpreted by the musical’s writer Johnathan Larson as his idea for people to get away from screens and virtual life and see the world and fight AIDS). He comes back to New York and finds love in Angel and is all about just living life.
Angel is a drag queen who makes money playing makeshift drums out of buckets on the streets. She is HIV-positive and faces many of the horrible effects. But beside that, she looks past it and is the most fun-loving and energetic character who represents the carefree aspect of life.
Maureen is Marks bisexual ex-girlfriend who dumps him to be with Joanne (a Harvard grad lawyer). She is very bold and outspoken which can get her into a lot of trouble, including that of her musical career as she uses her art to form a protest.
And then theres Benny, the outcast of the group per say. He was much like the others, and was even Mark and Rogers roommate at a time, but then married into a rich family and now owns the buildings he used to struggle to live in himself.
So, now that you slightly know and understand the characters, the plot is really just that. We follow their lives and all of the many problems they face as well as living in a very impoverished area. Their unique interactions with each other and the world around them are fascinating and allow people who normally have no connections to any of these groups of people to suddenly feel empathetic.
By getting to know these characters for who they are and seeing the pain they go through and also getting to admire their fights, it humanizes people who may have been looked at as less than that previously.
Infused with rock music, another revolutionary aspect of this great musical, this will send you on a whirlwind of emotions. I will say this is for sure no light-hearted musical most people might imagine. No upbeat singing and dancing around the stage or setting like those cheesy musicals. Rent will show you the effects on drugs and disease, and that is not easy.
Topics like this are supposed to be talked about and people need to understand them and view them for what they are and be able to attribute them to real life. Rent will do that to you. And yes, you may feel sick or disgusted at times but it’s that incredibly awful feeling that will cause conversations and even change.