Tuesday, May 4, 2010

RENT at Media Theatre

Patrick Ludt, who plays Roger in The Media Theatre's “Rent,” opening May 5, suggests that this iconic rock musical is his era's “Hair.”

That comparison brought back vivid images in this columnist's cerebellum. As a struggling actor in NYC in 1971, I responded to an open audition for “Hair.” Thinking myself brilliant to avoid the certain rush, I arrived at the venue two hours early. By that time, the line was already twice around the block...and NYC blocks are huge! The guy in front of me let out exactly one syllable of the song “Oklahoma” (the “O”) and was cut off with an abrupt, “We'll call you”!

There is more to this forlorn tale for Aisle Say readers, but one that I will leave for a later time.

The East Village in the early 1990's; a district and a nation devastated by crime, drugs and worse, the AIDS epidemic. This was the scourge of the century; fear, dread and discrimination were knee jerk responses to the questions surrounding the disease and the fact that it was mostly attached to the homosexual community.

For years, composer Jonathan Larson worked on a pop opera based on Puccini's “La Boheme.” The plot chronicles a group of friends over a year in their struggles against poverty, drug abuse, AIDS and the inability to make 'rent.' (Larson also explained rent was defined as being 'torn' as in 'emotionally wracked.')

The production has only recently become available for rental and Media is the first professional group to license it in this region.

The career of Idina Menzel was made in “Rent.” She met her husband, Taye Diggs, in the show and both did the movie. Menzel, as we know, originated the Wicked Witch in “Wicked” and that scary guacamole painted face.

“Ren,” like “Hair," marks a cultural watershed and will be with us forever. Perhaps the most popular song is “Seasons of Life.” The entire cast harmonizes to sing "Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes" (the number of minutes in a common - non-leap - calendar year).

The main question asked is, "How do you measure a year?" Various answers are suggested, from points of the day ("Daylights," "Sunsets," "Midnights") to units of measure ("inches," "miles"), to everyday events ("cups of coffee") to more symbolic concepts ("laughter," "strife"). In the chorus, the song reaches the conclusion that love is the only proper measure of a year in a human life.

The back story of “Rent” makes it all the more powerful. Composer Jonathan Larson worked for years on this update of Puccini. The night before opening he died of an aneurysm. That's as substantial a piece of Broadway legend as it gets.

The Media Theatre is a wonderfully refurbished former vaudeville house in picturesque Media, only 20 minutes from New Castle County. There are close by restaurants. Son Grant and I enjoyed a recent “Wizard of Oz,” with a cast replete with many professional credits.

May 5 to June 6. MediaTheatre.org 104 E. State St. (follow the Media Exit off of the Blue Route. 610.891.0100.

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