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.