As a child, I hated musicals. School holiday viewing was full of them. Inevitably there’d be the Wizard of Oz, or.. shudder.. The Sound of Music, or worse, The Pirates of Penzance. It seemed to me that musicals were nothing but crap.

They made a movie of Annie sometime in the early eighties. I saw it with a bunch of friends. I can’t remember much of the story, just some of the songs. Tomorrow, of course, and I could probably hum along to a few others.

But overall, musicals just didn’t do it for me, and I regarded them as a bit of a cultural lost cause. So when I saw that Rent (a recording of the Broadway show, not the cinematic version) was showing on cable, I wasn’t all that interested. But they kept putting it on, so I recorded it and forgot about it until I was bored one day and figured I’d give it a try.

Boy, what an eye-opener. Rent changed everything I’d ever thought about musicals. No overacting, no overly flowery language, no pretensions. Just a moving story, with contemporary themes, set to some incredible music. Throughout the course of the show, I laughed, I cried, I cheered for the characters. I identified with them and their stories. And I loved the music itself. It challenged everything I’d thought musicals to be.

I felt a genuine sense of sadness and loss when I learned that Jonathan Larson had died the night before opening night. Up until that point in my life, I’d never understood why complete strangers cried when some famous artist or producer or actor or whatever died. But now I do. What a tremendous talent.

2 thoughts on “Musicals

  1. I haven’t seen Rent, but I understand it’s a retelling of the story in La Boheme, the opera by Puccini… I did know the story about Jonathan Larson, though. I think musicals underwent a change somewhere in the late 70’s/mid 80’s, and there are many subgenres. It’s definitely worth exploring further!
    (note to self, must get Rent out of the library next time I find a $2 coin hiding in the couch…)

    • You’re correct.  It’s based on La Boheme, with a modern twist.  Rent is definitely worth watching – over and over and over again.  The one I have recorded on Foxtel is the last performance of its first theatrical run off Broadway.  It is, in my view, substantially better than the cinematic version.  Part of their challenge in the movie version was that they needed to cull the cast from 20+ to under a dozen, and that meant things had to be cut.  The movie version removed a number of tie-in scenes and additional back-story scenes that I feel added an extra layer to the whole experience.  That said, either one is worth watching.  The movie version was able to bring some of the scenes to life much better than the theatrical version (particularly the opening performance of “Rent” and “Out Tonight”).  Both versions have their own merits, but I will always love the theatrical performance more.

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