Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Music Ignites The Night

So, I am sure you were all about the 100th story on theater internet sites that ran today. But, of course, the big news was really the closing of Rent. The news is so big that my regional theater post will have to wait...

I know, we can all say the news isn't so big because, let's face it, this has been years coming. Indeed, I can't count how many times I've heard that Rent was over. But now it finally will be... Though I doubt very much it will close exactly when the release said it will. Regardless, by this time next year, there will be no more Tango: Maureen on Broadway.

I want to use Rent to discuss two distinct problems that befall many long-running Broadway shows:

1) Many people have already seen it.
Yes, well, duh. This is so obvious it is stupid to mention it, but, of course, I must. Once a show has run on Broadway for over 10 years, we all know that a lot of annual tourists or regular theatergoers will have seen it. So that definitely eats into an audience.

2) The show risks becoming less than it once was.
Here is the tricky thing--there are certain shows that are in a way timeless. In other words, these shows will always be interesting to a new crop of viewers. That doesn't mean they'll be open forever, but they have a better chance of lasting longer. Phantom is a big-budget tourist attraction. There are always families wanting to take their kids to see The Lion King. A show like Rent is a harder sell over time. It succeeded originally because it really spoke to a group of people. Those people have seen it, many times probably. And, for a long while, new crops of Rent-heads were born. But now, with more rock musicals littering the stage, the possible future Rent audience is being parred down. After all, shows like Spring Awakening are racier and more now (that show's actual time period notwithstanding). So a big part of what made Rent so popular--its edge and its ability to attract new kinds of audiences to the theater--is now gone. If Rent opened now, it would be less than it was when it opened in 1996. Now, in a way, Rent created its competition. Would there be a Spring Awakening if there was never a Rent? It's hard to say. There may have been another Rent-like show that proved the success of rock musicals not in the Andrew Lloyd Webber vein. But there is also an argument that, without Rent, the crop of musicals today would be very different. Those who hold to this second theory believe that, if Rent opened today, it would still be what it was in 1996 because it would still be revolutionary. To this I have to disagree--even in a sea of Phantom-esque scores, 2008 is not 1996 and Rent simply has lost some of its topic edginess.

All this is not to take anything away from the amazing run Rent has had on Broadway. It influenced a huge amount of theatergoers--way more than The Lion King ever will.


Seth Christenfeld said...

Finally. jeez.

carajoy said...

Finally a real post or finally Rent closes?