Life Support: Long-running musical Rent counts many GW students among its fans

It’s one of Broadway’s tragic tales: Jonathan Larson, the creator of Rent, struggled for nearly 15 years to create a musical that meant something, only to die from an aortic aneurysm the day before the opening of his show. Larson never knew that his musical, based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” became one of the most successful in Broadway’s history, winning four Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize, touring around the country and remaining on Broadway for 10 years and counting.

Larson’s memory is kept by the legions of “Rentheads” across the country – the musical’s most diehard fans. They have met the film adaptation with a mixture of joy and disappointment. After all, in their eyes, it may never be able to live up to the original version of the musical, but many laud director Chris Columbus’ decision to use the original cast for the film.

GW has its own base of Rent fans who see the musical every time they can, and know the words to all the songs. Many find themselves motivated by the musical’s inspirational messages.

“(Rent) emphasizes that no matter how hard life is, you can always turn to the people that love you,” freshman Lindsey Woolf said. “Plus it addresses a lot of issues – homosexuality, AIDS, poverty – in a way that removes the stigma and makes them something everyone can relate to and understand.”

Other students also praised the musical for bringing attention to social issues.

“It was the first time I was exposed to gay characters in realistic ways, which helped me through potentially tumultuous times,” senior Richard Ferraro said.

Ferraro, who is currently studying abroad in England, said he told his boyfriend that they would be seeing the film together the day he arrives back in the states.

An electronic media major, he said he was most inspired by the character of Mark Cohen, an aspiring filmmaker.

“It was his passion for film that inspired me to take my first electronic media course at GW,” Ferraro said.

Many consider the songs to be the most striking part of the musical. Rent is considered to be a rock opera, and the music tries to capture the late ’80s, when the musical takes place.

“My favorite song is probably ‘What You Own,'” junior Lindsay Barcham said. “The vocals are unbelievable and I get chills when I hear it.”

Sophomore Maya Uffenheimer said she loves the entire score, “but my favorite would have to be ‘One Song Glory.’ It is so emotional and dramatic.”

GW’s Rentheads had varying reactions to the film version of the musical.

“As a diehard Rent fan, I could not have been happier with how the film turned out,” Barcham said. “I was nervous that the film would destroy this amazing, life-changing musical. All it did was make it come to life even more brilliantly.”

Woolf disagreed. “Nothing compares however to seeing Rent performed on stage – there is an energy there that can never be captured on camera.”

“I was a little disappointed about some of the songs they left out and the changes they made,” Uffenheimer said. “But it was still a great film.”

While not all Rentheads relate to everything about the characters, something about the show’s messages ties them to this musical.

As Barcham said, “I don’t have AIDS and I am very much straight, but the fact is, this whole show is about the quest for love, and the realization that you can’t have regrets . you have to live in the moment.”

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