I had the privilege of seeing RENT at Trumbull High School last night.
As you may know, the production was cancelled when school administrators and the Board of Education decided that the subject matter of the show was too "sensitive" and "controversial."
Well, we all know how well that sat with the theater community. With 7,600 likes on their Facebook page and under the pressure of the national attention, administrators decided to reverse their decision and let the students present the show as planned.
I joined the Goodspeed Musicals folks last night to lend my support to the gang, figuring they'd be facing a somewhat apprehensive audience. BOY was I wrong. There was a crowd of over 1,000 people ready on a Thursday night to stand and cheer the show.
It was a little bit surreal watching the show and realizing that when I saw RENT for the first time - with Randy Meyer after waiting on the rush line and seeing Gwen Stewart's first show as Joanne (and thinking HOW COOL we were) - THESE KIDS WEREN'T BORN.
But more than that, I was struck by the fact that on the stage of a high school in suburban Connecticut there was a kid in Santa drag singing "with a thousand sweet kisses...i'll cover you..." to another boy and no one seemed to think it was odd. Two girls belted their faces off (all the kids did, really) singing "Take Me or Leave Me" with more real vigor than I've seen many pros give it in auditions. These kids were not singing about finding a mansion in New Rochelle or if they were stranded at the drive in, these kids were singing about times that formed a generation, and they were braver than we ever were at their age. And I fell in love with RENT all over again - because, through their eyes, it felt all new again.
Of course, the parts of RENT that make me go ugh are still there. The "poo poo it" rhyme, the singing junkies (got any x any boogie woogie blah blah blah), and (kind of) the whole second act, especially when Mimi wakes up. I mean, I love that she sees Angel and she looks good, but really? And within this production it did strike me that a) there were almost no students of color and b) that Mimi and Roger actually kissed at the end of Act 1 right before Viva La Vie Boheme! but that Collins (white) and Angel (white) just hugged, as did Maureen and Joanne. But when that kid sang the I'll Cover You reprise so beautifully (besides thinking of Michael Kayne and Truman late at night attempting to sleep) it was not only for his love he was singing for - it was for a whole new generation of kids who might find themselves in a world where bigotry and hatred have lost their footing. And, fool that I am, it gave me hope.