The Legacy of Rent

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The New Repertory Theatre in Watertown has dedicated its 2011-2012 season to the theme of Legacy, so it’s fitting to open the season with the rock musical Rent. One of the longest-running musicals of the post-Phantom generation, the original production closed on Broadway in 2008 after a twelve-year run. It’s been filmed twice and already revived off-Broadway, but the rights for local theater companies to put their own stamp on the show have only recently become available. The story of the show, a retelling of La Boheme set in the West Village of the early 1990s that owes as much to Green Day as it does to Puccini, will forever be wrapped up with the story of its creator. Jonathan Larson, the young composer, lyricist, and writer of Rent, died on the night before Rent played its first performance. The cast dedicated that evening’s performance, and every performance to his memory.

Larson was well aware of the power of legacy present in his show, even not knowing how his own tragic story would infuse the musical’s own story about the legacy of art and relationships with added emotional resonance. From his reliance on an older story to his adherence to (and occasional, purposeful breaking of) the musical theater rules established by his idols and mentors, Larson understood that Rent would not stand alone — in a best-case scenario, it would assume a place in musical theater history. The landmark original production guaranteed that would come true, but productions like the one at the New Rep, testing the waters of whether Rent can succeed with other visions guiding the show, is an important next step.  Continue reading