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RENT – Musical Essay

There’s a scene in the new musical “RENT” that may be the
quintessential romantic moment of the ’90s. Roger, a
struggling rock musician, and Mimi, a junkie who’s a
dancer at an S/M club, are having a lovers’ quarrel when
their beepers go off and each takes out a bottle of pills. It’s
the signal for an “AZT break,” and suddenly they realize
that they’re both HIV-positive. Clinch. Love duet. If you
don’t think this is romantic, consider that Jonathan Larson’s
sensational musical is inspired by Puccini’s opera “La
Boheme,” in which the lovers Mimi and Rodolfo are
tragically separated by her death from tuberculosis.

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Different age, different plague. Larson has updated
Puccini’s end-of-19th-century Left Bank bohemians to
end-of-20th-century struggling artists in New York’s East
Village. His rousing, moving, scathingly funny show,
performed by a cast of youthful unknowns with explosive
talent and staggering energy, has brought a shocking jolt of
creative juice to Broadway. A far greater shock was the
sudden death of 35-year-old Larson from an aortic
aneurysm just before his show opened. His death just
before the breakthrough success is the stuff of both tragedy
and tabloids. Such is our culture. Now Larson’s work,
along with “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk,” the
tap-dance musical starring the marvelous young dancer
Savion Glover, is mounting a commando assault on
Broadway from the downtown redoubts of off-Broadway.

Both are now encamped amid the revivals (“The King and
I”) and movie adaptations (“Big”) that have made
Broadway such a creatively fallow field in recent seasons.

And both are oriented to an audience younger than
Broadway usually attracts. If both, or either, settle in for a
successful run, the door may open for new talent to
reinvigorate the once dominant American musical theater.

“RENT” so far has the sweet smell of success, marked no
only by it’s $6 million advance sale (solid, but no guarantee)
but also by the swarm of celebrities who have clamored for
tickets: Michelle Pfeifer, Sylvester Stallone, Nicole Kidman
and Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Ralph Fiennes…name your
own biggie. Last week, on opening night, 21 TV crews,
many from overseas, swarmed the Nederlander Theatre to
shoot the 15 youthful cast members in euphoric shock
under salvos of cheers. Supermogul David Geffen of the
new DreamWorks team paid just under a million dollars to
record the original-cast album. Pop artitsts who’ve
expressed interest in recording songs from the 33-number
score include Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton and Boyz II
Men. A bidding scrimmage has started for the movie rights
among such Hollywood heavies as Warner Brothers,
Danny DeVito’s Jersey Films, Fox 2000 and Columbia.

The asking price is $3 million, but bonuses for length of run,
the Pulitzer Prize (which “RENT” has already won), various
Tony and critics’ awards could jack the price up to $3.75
million. Despite these stupefying numbers, the young
producers, Jeffrey Seller, 31, and Kevin McCollum, 34,
and their associate, moneyman Allan S. Gordon, know that
they’re not home free. “There’s no such thing in New
York,” says Seller. “Our company has mostly done tours. If
you sell 8,000 seats a week in Cleveland, you did a great
job. Never having done a Broadway show, the idea that
you have to sell 450,000 seats a year is daunting.” Major
Broadway players like the Shubert Organization and
Jujamcyn Theaters, which lost out to the Nederlander in the
feverish grab for “RENT,” would love to be daunted like
these Broadway tyros. Rocco Landesman, Jujamcyn’s
president, says he’s “crushed” at not getting “RENT.” He
predicts the show will be a “crossover success; it will
attract an ethnically diverse audience, people who are not
normally theatergoers.” “RENT” has a $67.50 top ticket
price, but the producers have reserved the first two rows at
$20 and are tagging mezzanine seats at a “bargain” $30.

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“‘RENT’ has a lot riding on its shoulders,” says producer
Jim Freydberg, whose “Big” has just opened. “I desperately
hope it works. If it’s successful, we’re going to get more
daring shows on Broadway. If it’s not, we’re going to get
more revivals.” This is interesting, coming from a
competitior whose own show, based on the popular Tom
Hanks movie about a 13-year-old boy who wakes up on
day in the body of a 30-year-old man, could be said to
represent the less daring sector of Broadway. “If I really
wanted to make money I’d go to Wall Street and invent
money,” says Seller. “I came to Broadway because I was
excited by the question ‘Can you challenge the mainstream?
Can you reinvent the mainstream from inside the
mainstream?'” Says McCollum: “It would be disingenuous
to say we don’t hope to make money with ‘RENT.’ But I’m

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RENT - Musical Essay
There's a scene in the new musical "RENT" that may be the
quintessential romantic moment of the '90s. Roger, a
struggling rock musician, and Mimi, a junkie who's a
dancer at an S/M club, are having a lovers' quarrel when
their beepers go off and each takes out a bottle of pills. It's
the signal for an "AZT break," and suddenly they realize
that they're both HIV-positive. Clinch. Love duet. If you
don't think this is romantic, consider that Jonathan Larson's
2018-12-27 03:16:00
RENT - Musical Essay
$ 13.900 2018-12-31
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