The Tony Award winning musical Rent is more than just music, dancing, and a cool set. It is an inspirational story of love, friendship and redemption, of following dreams and dreaming of a better day. Whenever I see it, which is as often as possible and over ten times now, my heart beats up in my throat. Tears flow from the first guitar strum of “One Song Glory” and don’t stop rollin’ until I am sitting in my car after the show. The music, the lyrics, the characters and their struggles strike a cord in me that is profound and visceral. And when I watch the actors on stage, feeling their joy spill out into the dark theatre, watching their souls soar as they sing, it fills a void in me. It lifts me up. It inspires me. It makes me smile.
When I first saw it, over 11 years ago, I had been going through a proverbial Valley of Life. I was mending a broken heart from the year prior (I roll my eyes now in retrospect — I wish I had just read “He’s Just Not That Into You” and been done with it!), I was overweight, drinking a lot, and wallowing in a sea of 2:00am carne asada burritos and beer goggles. I was desperate for a change, for a light, for a kick in the pants. Rent was all of those things, and more.
One night, way back in the summer of 1997, my dear friend and fellow thespian/theatre geek, Mike, invited me to a preview of the new hit, controversial musical Rent at the La Jolla Playouse. I had heard of it from a friend who had seen it on Broadway, and I knew I just had to go. We had 5th row seats. We could see their sweat, tears and black nail polish. I was mesmerized. They had me at “Rent.”
The show rocked my world. I was weeping (surprised?), laughing and bursting from the inside out. I wanted to run up on the stage, hug the actors, ask them to be my best friends, do a little dance and feel the spotlight on my face. I had not been on a stage for at least 4 years. I did not realize how much I missed it until that night.
After the show that night I learned of the tragic story surrounding the death of the show’s creator, Jonathan Larson. He had been a struggling actor, writer, director, waiting tables in New York and he finally landed it big time. His little-musical-that-could,was headed for Broadway. After the final dress rehearsal, on the eve of his dreams coming true, he died of an aortic aneurism. He did not live to see opening day, or any of the gazillion accolades the show went on to achieve over the past 12 years. Poetic injustice. Irony to the nth degree. A reminder to enjoy every moment and follow your dreams. Proof that there is “No Day But Today.”
I went home that night and wrote in my journal for 4 hours straight, scribbling feverishly through my tears. But the tears were joyful tears, full of hope and new beginnings. Within a week I had seen the show three more times and was enrolled in acting classes. I had lost a few pounds and found my self-respect. I had, without realizing it, stopped thinking about the j-e-r-k who had dumped me. The void I had been feeling was in fact not caused by him. I had been missing myself. Ding, dong. It was an epiphany. It was powerful. It was awesome.
So when I say I love Rent, I mean I LOVE Rent. I really think it changed the course of my life. It inspired me to act on my dreams. To get out of my head and into my life. To measure my life in love, not loss. Though I have put the acting thing on hold for the time being, I know I will get back to that part of my life, that dream, when the time is right. At the moment I am happier than I have ever been playing the role of mommy with my girls as my audience (isn’t it usually the other way around?).
I am writing this post tonight because the Rent Live Broadway Filming DVD came out last week and guess who had a date night last night with her hubby, La Crema Chardonnay, and her dvd player? (whoa Readers, whoa…this is a family blog). All of my emotions from 11.5 years ago came flooding back. It inspired me yet again, this time to keep pushing ahead on my book project. And it re-ignited my idea to turn the book into a play, utilizing the amazing stories I am compiling as the basis for the characters. That way, I can get back to the stage, where my heart beats like wild and my soul sees forever. Stay tuned for that chapter.
Tonight I am thankful for Jonathan Larson, his inspiration and his light.