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.1996 Pulitzer Prize in Drama
1996 Tony Award - Best Musical
New York, Nederlander Theatre
. official site
Rent - the book by Jonathan Larson
Larson: Rent Composed by Jonathan Larson. For voice, piano and guitar chords.
Format: piano/vocal/chords songbook. With vocal melody, piano accompaniment, lyrics, chord
names, guitar chord diagrams and color photos.
The number one fact to remember about Rent
is that its 35-year-old composer, lyricist, and playwright, Jonathan Larson, was struck
dead by an aortic aneurysm less than a month before the original production opened in New
York. The work went on to win every possible Broadway award, including Tony awards for
Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Score of a Musical, plus nothing less than
the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Poor Mr. Larson did not live to enjoy any of it. Every
writer who has ever struggled to achieve success can relate strongly to Larson's personal
The touring production of Rent
currently at San Francisco's gloriously baroque Golden Gate Theater is beautifully
mounted, the set is spectacular, and the cast young and full of energy. They are perfect
for The Nineties: black, white, gay, straight, male, female, hunky and chunky. They all
move very fast across the stage, and it must take a colossally choreographed effort to
keep them from bumping into each other as they climb ropes, jump up stairs, vault on
tables, and occasionally even stop to sing or dance.
But we could quibble about
a few inconsequential items: the music, the lyrics, and the miking. Larson's eclectic
music, while obviously popular, has no focus. One song is ersatz rock and roll, the next
ersatz rumba, the next ersatz R&B, and the one after that ersatz emotional ballad.
Since the show is more an opera than a musical, the strategy must be to make the songs do
the explaining. This would be a difficult proposition even for a master like Stephen
Here, the principal love
interest between Roger (Dean Balkwill) and Mimi (Sharon Leal) is incomprehensible.
Repeatedly trite lyrics like "There is no future, there is no past, as if this moment
might not last," do little explaining, merely filling up the musical syllables.
Even if you love the
goulash of musical styles, there's still a big problem here. The production company has
made the unfortunate decision to give every singer on stage a headset microphone. This
means all the vocals are funneled through the house PA system, but no sound comes from the
person singing. So everything now depends on the lighting, since without a spotlight
you can't tell who is singing and where that person might be on stage. The amplification
is high, since the singers have to be projected over the gleeful five-piece band (which
gets to play in every style, sometimes all at once).
The result is total
confusion. With actors jumping and running and singers turning and vaulting and lighting
flashing first up on that riser and now down on this stairway it's impossible to
concentrate on the music. Perhaps this is why it sounds so jumbled.
There are two marvelous performers in the production. One is Mark Leroy
Jackson, who plays Tom Collins, the lover of Angel, the cross-dresser. Jackson possesses a
fine instrument. It is a pity he gets so little chance to display it. The other fabulous
character is Maureen (Erin Keaney), the newly lesbian ex-girl friend. Keaney's first
number, Over The Moon, is the best song in the first act. Another standout musical
piece is Seasons of Love, which opens the second act and reprises at various times.
This piece is sung by the entire company. When they sing together, rather than forcing us
to keep swiveling our heads like at a tennis match, the cast of Rent is at its
San Francisco, May,