Let's talk about musicals!
The thread about The Wizard of Oz helped me realize there were other musical fans here, and rather than go offtopic in that thread I figured I'd make a whole new one for discussion.
Topic is: musicals. Anything and everything. Tell me about your favorites, the shows you've been to, the songs that make you cry, the numbers you've performed at karaoke, what a talent Sarah Brightman is, how much you had to pay for Hamilton tickets -- whatever! It's all fair game!
I am absolutely obsessed with musicals, have watched pretty much every English language musical film I could get my hands on (many repeatedly), and have also been tremendously lucky to have seen quite a few live in theatre (many of them multiple times too), not only here in Ontario (Toronto, Stratford, Niagara Falls) but also NYC, Las Vegas and even a few in London, when I was living in the UK. I could probably rattle on endlessly about every one I have ever seen, but I will try to restrain myself so as not to bore people, and will only list my top 10 live musicals and top 10 musical films... even though narrowing it down that much will be incredibly difficult! :P
Top 10 Live Musicals:
1. Phantom of the Opera
Predictable, I know, but it really is my absolute favorite musical. I have seen it live half a dozen times now in three separate cities, and watched the Live at the Royal Albert Hall version countless times. It was the very first live musical I was ever taken to by my parents, back before I was even in my teens, and so it holds a very special place in my heart. I still have my playbill from that night tucked away somewhere, as well as the original Canadian cast CD I bought back then, with Colm Wilkinson as the Phantom (who was the best Phantom to have ever graced the stage).
2. Fiddler on the Roof
I have seen Fiddler several times as well, but by far my favorite performance was seeing it in Stratford, Ontario during the Stratford Festival. Brent Carver, who is a friend of my father's from high school, was playing Tevye the dairyman and he was absolutely phenomenal. I got to go backstage to meet him and a whole bunch of the cast afterwards, which is an experience I will never forget and why this sits at #2... even though the musical itself, without Brent performing it and that experience, would probably be somewhere slightly below instead (but still in my top 10). The 1971 film is fantastic too, BTW... so check it out if you have never seen it.
3. Les Misérables
What can you really say about Les Mis that hasn't been said already? It's heartbreaking, inspiring, powerful, and I Dreamed A Dream still gives me goosebumps every single time I listen to it. Like Phantom, Les Mis is also still consistently touring worldwide, so if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and do not watch either of the film versions :P ... Go see it live! Incidentally Colm Wilkinson was also the best Jean Valjean too... and that song was even specifically written for him.
4. The Producers
You really can't go wrong with Mel Brooks in anything, but The Producers is definitely one of his best. I got incredibly lucky to get to see this in London when it was performed by Nathan Lane (when he had to step in last minute to replace Richard Dreyfus), along with the amazingly funny Lee Evans. If you haven't seen The Producers, do yourself a huge favor and go watch one of the movie versions, both of which are amazing... though I personally prefer the Lane+Broderick version over the original Gene Wilder one.
Put it this way, Rent came out right around the time I first "came out" shortly after I dropped out of high-school, and had just moved into an apartment with several gay friends living at Church & Wellesley (the heart of the gay community here in Toronto), which was only a dozen or so blocks away from the Royal Alexandra Theatre where Rent was playing... so needless to say, I have seen Rent live way more times than is probably sane/healthy, and watched the 2005 film and 2008 Broadway recording countless times as well. It's definitely not the greatest musical out there, but it spoke to me then, still speaks to me now, and represents a very important time in my life to me.
6. Show Boat
Unlike most of the others on this list, I have only seen Show Boat live once, but despite that I still catch myself singing "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" every so often. It's unfortunately impossible to see live these days AFAIK, although it does get revived every once in a blue moon... but thankfully the 1935 film and the 1951 film with Ava Gardner are quite good, so I would highly recommend watching one (or both!).
7. Kiss of the Spider Woman
I got to see this when Brent (from Fiddler story above) was playing the lead role of Luis Molina, a homosexual imprisoned in Argentina who lives in a fantasy world to escape from the torture and suffering of his situation, which he won a Best Actor Tony for! It's a pretty heartbreaking but powerful story, and Brent was absolutely amazing in it. Sadly the 1985 film is based on the book, not the musical... so there is no way to watch the musical anymore, at least that I am aware of. :(
I <3 <3 <3 Monty Python, and while Spamalot was incredibly silly (as it should be!) and a lot of it felt like pure, unadulterated fan service, it was still hilarious and awesome. It was also amazing to finally get a chance to see Tim Curry live on stage!
9. We Will Rock You
Queen is my all-time favorite rock band, and so even though this musical is essentially just a bunch of their most popular songs awkwardly wrapped around a semi-coherent dystopian future plot, the music is just so amazing to hear performed live, and the staging and production value was so fantastic that the plot doesn't even matter. It was great and I would happily go see it again if I could, which is why I am desperately hoping that with the Bohemian Rhapsody movie doing so well it gets revived soon.
10. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
I got to see Donny Osmond performing this in Las Vegas. At the time I was still a practicing Catholic, so I found it slightly more compelling back then... but not so much since I lost my faith. However, despite that it was still an incredibly memorable performance with insanely good production value, and it's a pretty solid musical. The 1999 film is decent-ish and worth checking out if you haven't seen it.
p.s. I have no doubt Hamilton will likely unseat this one as soon as I get a chance to see it. ;)
Top 10 Musical Films:
I have seen this so many times that I can even act out the movements and facial expressions of most of the actors. :P We used to play it on repeat for months on end when I worked at a video rental store in high school, and we all would dance and sing along while we worked. I know it's "problematic", since it's emblematic of its time and the time it takes place in... but I still love everything about it. Favorite Song/Dance: Summer Nights... duh!
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Similar to Grease, I have seen this way too many times to count. Every year at Christmas I watch it at least a couple times and can sing all the songs by heart. Forget Edward Scissorhands, this is far and away Tim Burton's best work and is one of the top Christmas movies of all time. Favorite Song: What's This?
3. Pete's Dragon (1977)
Underrated Disney classic, which I can also sing every song in by heart as well. It's heartfelt, uplifting and joyous, exactly what a kid's musical should be. Favorite Song/Dance: I saw a Dragon, although Passamashloddy is a close second.
p.s. Don't dare speak to me about the remake... blech!
4. Moulin Rouge!
I adore Ewan McGregor, and this musical is very similar to Les Mis in both its depressing-ness but also its ability to inspire. Baz Luhrmann is also a genius director, and it's a shame he doesn't make more films. Favorite Song: Your Song, which still gives me goosebumps ever time.
5. Singin' in the Rain
This one is similar to Grease in being a bit problematic. Not because of any themes in it, but because of what Debbie Reynolds was forced to endure during the filming. As a piece of art it's virtually unparalleled though, and the music and dancing in it are both sublime. Gene Kelly is so damn smooth, Donald O'Connor is hilarious, and Debbie Reynold is simply delightful. Favorite Song/Dance: Good Morning, but Make 'Em Laugh is a close second.
6. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Oh, Tim Curry, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! I adore everything about this zany movie, but especially the cult following which has grown around it. If you're ever in a city with a thriving LGBT community and have the chance to attend a Rocky Horror Picture Show event night at a movie theatre there, I highly recommend it... it's a blast! Favorite Song/Dance: I mean, let's be honest here... Time Warp is the obvious choice.
p.s. The Rocky Horror Show gets an honorable mention here too and it only just missed the cut in my top 10 live musicals list.
7. Mary Poppins (1964)
The quintessential Disney musical. Yes, Dick Van Dyke's accent is atrocious, but who cares? Regardless of that it's still a fantastic film with wonderful music, and Julie Andrews is flawless in it. Favorite Song: Let's Go Fly a Kite... it's just such a perfect ending and makes me tear up from happiness every time.
p.s. Super‐cali‐fragil‐istic‐expi‐ali‐docious, since I would be remiss if I didn't link to that too.
8. Annie (1984)
An absolute classic. Carol Burnett dominates every scene she is in like the absolute pro she is, and Tim Curry is also fantastic. I haven't seen the remakes so can't speak to either but it's practically impossible to improve upon the original, so why they even tried is beyond me. Favorite song: It's the Hard-Knock Life is the obvious choice, but Little Girls is actually my favorite.
9. Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Another supremely underrated Disney classic that most people who I talk to have never even heard of. Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson (from Mary Poppins) are both fantastic in it. The story is really unique and interesting. All around good movie that I highly recommend. Favorite Song/Dance: Portobello Road but Substitutiary Locomotion is a close second.
10. Little Shop of Horrors
Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, with cameos from Bill Murray and John Candy... need I say more? It's not actually that great a musical, per se, but much like Rocky Horror it's creative, bizarre and super fun. The practical effects are great as well. Favorite Song: The title track is amazing, but Feed Me (Git It) is also up there.
Sound of Music, The King and I (both Rodgers & Hammerstein films), Westside Story, Cabaret, and pretty much every Shirley Temple and Barbra Streisand musical as well.
This is one hell of a response. Incredible. You are passionate and appreciative, and it's infectious. This makes me want to go watch and love everything you've listed. I also love the new collapsible formatting!
With regard to your depth of knowledge and experience, I'm curious: if you had to recommend a musical (any musical, not necessarily just the ones on this list) to people that normally hate musicals, which one would you choose and why?
Thanks, I'm glad people appreciated my comment. And damn, that's actually a really tough question!!!
I guess if I had to recommend a musical without knowing the person or being able to ask a few questions first, I would probably go with a jukebox musical like Rock of Ages, Tommy, We Will Rock You, or Jersey Boys, simply because those are based on popular music most people are already familiar with, and not "opera sounding stuff" like most others. Hamilton (which I haven't even seen yet!) is probably also a pretty safe recommendation too, unless you know the person really doesn't like hip-hop.
Alternatively, something like Cirque Des Soleil, Slava's SnowShow, STOMP or Blue Man Group might also be a good starting recommendation too, since they're not strictly musicals so are more broadly accessible and a good way to introduce people to the theatre without overwhelming or boring them.
However, if I knew the person was at least open to the idea of more operatic stuff and not easily bored with drama, Les Misérables is probably what I would recommend, since you basically have to be a sociopath to not have that story and music profoundly effect you. Phantom is great, but if someone "hates musicals" that is definitely not the one to expose them to first... you have to slowly build them up to it. ;)
Just to be pedantic, 'Tommy' isn't really a jukebox musical. It's a rock opera which started as a concept album. With jukebox musicals, the writers take an existing catalogue of songs from multiple albums by an artist (and sometimes multiple artists) and write a musical around them (there's also 'Mamma Mia' and 'Dusty' in this category). The songs in 'Tommy' were purpose-written for one album that had an overarching vision and plot, and the musical is just an adaptation of something that was already implicit in the album.
Hey, the 2012 version of Les Mis is worth seeing just for Anne Hathaway playing Fantine!
But yeah, you can go ahead and skip every other scene. :P
Yeah, Hathaway was the saving grace of that movie. Her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is more subdued than most I have seen/heard, but devastatingly effective emotionally.
I wouldn't skip past Redmayne's Empty chairs at empty table or Bark's On my own. :P
By chance have you seen the original Little Shop of Horrors film? The one by Roger Corman that the musical is based on. It's a cheaply produced 1960 black and white comedy film with a demi-cameo by not-yet-famous Jack Nicholson. It's got some pretty timeless humor, so I recommend it to anyone.
Oooh, I actually have not, and didn't even realize the musical was based on anything prior. I will have to check it out. Thanks!
It's not that funny. Mildly amusing, at best.
When I first heard the music for 'Rent', I hated it. Back in the late '90s, I had a friend who was obsessed with it. He had a bootleg copy of the Broadway cast soundtrack, and he would play it incessantly. And I hated it. I didn't like the music, and I didn't understand what they were singing. It was awful. When the theatre production came to town, he went and saw it many times (queuing in the "rush" line every time). He invited me along, but I'd heard the music and there was no way I was going to subject myself to two full hours of that awfulness.
Fast forward to 2005. The movie came out. I thought I might as well go see what all the fuss was about., now that it was only going to cost me the price of a movie ticket rather than a theatre ticket.
I fell in love.
It's amazing. It's wonderful. It's brilliant. It's touching. It's perfect.
I have since been to multiple amateur/community productions of it (some better than others, of course). And I bought recordings of the Broadway cast version on DVD and CD. Strangely, the movie is now my least favourite version of the musical, because the director converted some of the singing to talking. It's a rock opera: every line of dialogue is intended to be sung, not spoken.
'I'll Cover You', 'One Song Glory', 'Tango: Maureen', 'La Vie Boheme', 'Without You', 'Take Me or Leave Me'... almost every song is a hit. Even the sung phone messages are great!
If someone has to die and leave only one work of art behind to mark his life, this is absolutely the work to be known for.
This is now my all-time favourite musical. It displaced 'Chess' from top spot, which took a lot of doing!
Rent is truly sublime.
I could, like you, gush about it. At length. It's smartly written, brilliantly characterized, timely yet timeless yet also ahead of its time, and emotionally resonant for nearly anyone who chooses to open themselves up to it. I hate that it's seen as "the gay AIDS musical" (with no thanks given to Trey Parker and Matt Stone) because I feel like that pigeonholes people's impressions of it before they ever even get a chance to appreciate it.
To anyone who is not familiar with Rent, or who have only a cursory knowledge of its contents: it does have gay people, and it does focus on AIDS, but there's so much more to it than just those two elements. Furthermore, those two elements aren't in there on account of pandering or controversy--they're there because they're essential to the characters and story and are handled with the same care the show uses with the rest of its subject matter.
It wasn't a cultural phenomenon just because it was topical; it was a cultural phenomenon because it's amazing. People get surprised when I tell them that Jonathan Larson, the show's writer and creator, was a straight man who was HIV-negative. He didn't die of AIDS but instead, tragically, had a fatal aortic aneurysm the morning that his show debuted off-Broadway.
The cast, out of respect for Larson and in mourning themselves, decided to simply sing through the show that night, sans performances and costumes. They proceeded to do exactly this until they hit "La Vie Boheme" (NSFW). The song opens with a mock funeral and then transitions to become a raucous celebration of life. At this point, the cast, caught up in the energy and implications of the song, began to perform and then finished out the rest of the show.
That context alone usually causes my eyes to water, but the strongest tearjerker moment in the musical for me is actually a much smaller, less flashy one. In the first act, some of the characters visit a support group for people living with AIDS. This is told through the song "Life Support", which begins with the people at the meeting going around the circle and stating their names. The names you can hear in the linked recording ("Steve", "Gordon", "Ali", "Pam", and "Sue") were actual friends of Jonathan Larson who had died of AIDS. He wrote their names into the show as a tribute to them.
That isn't the part that gets me though--this is: Larson directed that the names be changed during performances to be the names of people known by the cast and crew who died of AIDS. That such a loving tribute is written directly into the show, and that it was understood that any cast and crew performing the show would know multiple people who had died to AIDS (given how widespread it was) -- well, it just makes my heart shrink and swell at the same time in a powerful way. I think it's a chilling reminder of how many we lost to the disease as well as a loving tribute to their memories. It's a haunting, beautiful moment and I legitimately cry at that scene every time. It's not intended to be a big, resonant moment, but I can't separate it from its context.
I honestly abhor Rent. I'm glad that the musical is better off Broadway than it was in the movie, because the movie is all I have to go on and I hated just about every moment. And I hate it for the same reason why I hated reading The Great Gatsby: it's got a cast of terrible people. Naturally the most tolerable one dies.
Lindsay Ellis can explain my feelings better than I can.
I'm sorry, I don't really mean to rain on your parade. I just have strong feelings about it.
It does have some very good music though. Seasons of Love is on my general good listening playlist.
I don't know if mentions work in edits, so I'll double post here rather than editing my other comment (which is probably for the best since I have a lot to say). I mention all of what I'm about to say not to try to persuade you in the slightest. I am totally fine with people not liking Rent, and I don't expect to argue anyone into liking it. What follows will instead be me just me tilting at windmills, particularly Ellis, because I feel like she missed the mark. By a lot.
Buckle up, because I'm one of those exhausting people who takes Rent Very Seriously™. You know, the kind of people she mentions whose zeal put her off from the get go.
I appreciate the real-world context she included in the video, and I love that she has a harsh critical distance. I think that's hugely important, as it's much more difficult to give valid critiques to stuff we are close to (with me probably being too close to Rent to adequately acknowledge its flaws, for example).
That said, I think she flat out missed the forest for the trees on this one. A lot of her criticisms came across as critiquing what Rent isn't rather than what Rent actually is. She spends a lot of the time chastizing the characters for their hypocrisy and, in the later half, says something to the effect of "it's almost like the musical wanted to point this out." And I'm like, YES! You just GOT IT! That's absolutely the point!
Like, to me one of the most compelling aspects of Rent is that its characters are all flawed and they're all treated both sympathetically and critically. This is precisely what gives the play its depth. The story isn't one of heroes and villains. Angel is the closest we come to a hero and she kills a dog for money. Benny is the closest we come to a villain and he finances Mimi's rehab at the height of her addiction. The story isn't about good and bad. It's about flawed people sometimes making flawed decisions, and sometimes making good ones. It's less of a morality tale and more of something that feels real or lived.
Like, let's take Mark, for example. She hates Mark! And I get it. He's a self-declared Independent Documentary Filmmaker. He resents the implication that he needs to make money and acts like working a day in his life is the greatest of injustices. He's a pretentious, privileged white guy who is filming the suffering of those around him for the sake of his own glory and fulfillment. Yuck!
And I get how someone can see that in the play and stop there, but ultimately I think that's an incredibly uncharitable read of Mark's character. It's reducing him to a sort of caricature that's unsupported by the play itself, as well as applying set of external criteria that allows us to turn off our empathy. Because Mark didn't meet our purity test for a "good human" we can disengage with him rather than accept his story, experiences, and perspectives as valid.
So, let's examine Mark for a moment. He calls himself a documentary filmmaker, and Lindsay rightly points out that what he's calling a "documentary" is really just home movies. This is readily apparent at the end of the film, where he displays his "documentary" and it's just snippets of his friends. First off, this is thematically relevant in two ways. One, "Seasons of Love" is about appreciating small moments, which is exactly what Mark's film is a collection of. And two, one of the big themes of the play is that earnest creation is in itself meaningful. Both Roger and Mark end their stories having finally created something that they have wanted to do for a long time: Roger writes his song, and Mark makes his film. Neither of these are particularly good (seriously, Roger's song about wanting to write his magnum opus is way better than his actual "magnum opus"), but they're fulfilling because they happened.
So, cool, Mark's arc works from a thematic perspective, but let's look at him from a character perspective. He has rejected his identity, primarily that of the privileged upbringing with respect to his parents. He refuses to call them or engage with them as a sort of self-declaration even though they clearly want to be a part of his life, and he's surrounded by artists doing art things and also suffering. Lindsay says that the play as a whole equates art with suffering, but to me that's specific to Mark's character. Because he doesn't have significant suffering of his own, his "art" turns outwards to those around him. Mark doesn't have a strong sense of self and instead looks, possibly enviously, at the community around him that is bonded and defined by tragedy.
Mark, Part 2
It's voyeuristic but also kinda honest? Like, I can totally see how a person like Mark, in a community like that, could feel adrift in their identity. Furthermore, I don't think the play is as kind to Mark as Ellis makes it out to be. Not only does it critique him through the homeless woman who checks him on his filming (which Ellis shows), but also through Roger in "Goodbye Love" (which was cut from the film but is intact in the play):
In their nasty friend breakup fight, Roger chastizes Mark for his voyeruism and for effectively hiding behind his camera:
Roger is outright saying Mark's reasons for filming are disingenuous. In response, Mark doesn't deny it but instead fires back:
Which, that's kind of a dickish thing to say to someone who you know is dying, right? Mark doesn't look like the good guy here. Roger lets him know exactly that by responding sarcastically:
Which is fair. Roger's the one who's dying, not Mark, so why should we focus on Mark's feelings over Roger's, right? Mark was definitely the dick here, right?
I think the strength of the play is that it says yes, but also no. It encourages us to also see where he's coming from. Losing the people around you, the ones you care about, hurts. Even though he himself doesn't have AIDS and won't lose his life to it, he's still damaged by it. It's still difficult for him. Mark's pain isn't any less real, it's just a different form.
Mark then goes on to have a moment to himself in "Halloween" (also cut from the film). The song is intentionally awkward:
Overblown metaphor much? Absolutely. Even Mark says so! His next lines:
Even he knows he's pretentious! His own self-reflection is him grappling with this, as well as Roger's earlier accusations:
Mark has turned away from his family, was dumped by his girlfriend who cheated on him, and is living with the reality that his footage will last longer than the lives of the people he's close to. This is a complex, nuanced emotional situation--one that's denied to Mark if we simply write him off as privileged white filmmaker worthy of little more than an eyeroll.
Rent is Lives, Rather than Morals
And to me, the crux of Rent is the kind of depth of meaning I've tried to lay out here. I could go character by character and talk about how each one is portrayed as flawed, yet human, and how ultimately the play's biggest conclusion is that even in spite of their flaws they are no less deserving of love.
Because that's where I think Ellis missed the mark the most. To me Rent isn't trying to be an honest depiction of the AIDS crisis, nor is it trying to be a rage against the machine. It is not focused on methods or political change. The characters largely accept their situations while also acknowledging the shittiness of it (a familiar feeling to modern audiences especially). I get how it looks like it's supposed to be some revolutionary firebrand, especially because of its titular track, but outside of the tracks "Rent" and "La Vie Boheme" most of the songs are about the relationships between the characters rather than their relationships to society or power structures.
To me, Rent is a response to the moralization that surrounded the AIDS crisis in the first place. So many people used AIDS as a way to turn off their empathy. Because it was prevalent in gay people, particularly promiscuous ones, their deaths and suffering were seen by many as lying in beds of their own making. The same goes for drug users. If they simply stopped having sex or using heroin, the argument went, then they wouldn't expose themselves to the disease and eventual death. But, because they were in error, they deserve their fates.
The larger society was trying to apply a sense of fairness to the disease, so that they could position anyone who did not act perfectly as guilty and therefore undeserving of compassion. This is a legalistic view that I think is harmful. All of us have made mistakes. All of us have done things that weren't the "right" thing to do. All of us have acted in hurtful ways--to ourselves or others. Being told we were in the wrong doesn't usually help us--we already know so. We're often living with the fallout and natural punishments embedded into so many decisions like that. Being met with compassion in our lowest moments is powerful. Healing. Being met with a "told you so" is damaging. Belittling.
Rent doesn't say someone deserves AIDS because they used drugs or they slept around. Rent says that the people who did those things still had real, full lives. It says that their lives meant something to the people around them. Mimi isn't just a drug addicted sex worker that society discards -- she's loved and has people that care about her. Rent encourages us to care about her and others in the same way, even in light of their flaws or decisions. It nudges us to find the humanity and common ground in their stories. It also speaks directly to those people who were left behind by the larger society--the ones to whom the doors of compassion were shut. It says that even in your darkest moments, where you are facing death -- especially a death that comes directly from actions you yourself committed -- you can still find meaning, hope, and value. You are not a discarded nobody, a flaw and nothing more. You are somebody and you have the power to give your life meaning. You can hold onto your dignity. You can find people who will support and even love you.
Ellis acknowledges that Rent tries to be hopeful but then, strangely, discards that conclusion. It felt to me like she was throwing away the entire point of the play as if it were an afterthought. The ending of the video, where she juxtaposes the play's joie de vivre with the real-world footage of protests feels like she's indicting the play for not being intellectually honest about the suffering of the AIDS crisis when the play itself is a direct counter to experiences of that type. Plenty of other media has tackled myriad tragedies of the AIDS crisis. Rent dared to say that there is more than just tragedy underneath its shadow.
I really don't want to make this thread entirely about Rent, but I feel that not responding to you after you took the time to write all of that would be an insult.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I don't like Rent as much as you was because I am fairly young and AIDS has not affected me like it would most people who are just barely older than I am. Yes, I was a young man who was a prime target for HIV, but modern drug cocktail therapy had already been around when I went through puberty. But honestly I feel that AIDS has been talked about much more effectively in other forms. Have you seen a TV show called Pose? The lever that starts the plot is when a trans woman learns she is positive during the early AIDS crisis.
It's honestly very difficult to make specific criticisms about Rent because it's simply been too long since I've seen it. That's why I pointed towards the Ellis video; I knew she would be able to make more accurate criticisms than I can right now. But your analysis actually makes things more clear. My distaste of Rent is not what it says, it's how it says it. For a musical released in a time when there weren't really very many positive depictions of gay people in the media, it was kind of insulting to to see a play with gay deadbeats. IIRC that also stands for when the film version came out as well - the only TV shows I can think of that had queer characters that weren't just comedy props or one-time 'a very special episode' characters was Queer as Folk and The L Word.
The messages you get from Rent as complex and deep, I view as conflicted and muddy. Bringing up both sides of a dichotomy has the effect of devaluing either side. Seeing these characters realize their flaws is more frustrating to me than anything because for the most part it doesn't seem like they want to fix them, which makes it seem more like the show is trying to glorify these flaws. I get what you are trying to say when you're talking about lives versus morals, but those morals have a way of catching the spotlight, and that's what makes it untolerable to me.
But like I said before, I'm glad that the original stage version is different. That means that I can watch that one and give it a reevaluation. The change in framing is likely to make that difference to me. Beyond that, I know I'm a more patient person than I was when I watched the film originally, so there's a good chance I'd actually end up liking it.
Totally fair, and I should rewind a bit and affirm the parameters that art is experienced subjectively. My long post came across as pretty prescriptive, and that's not a valid way to approach things either. Like Ellis, I sat down with a drink and let my strong critical feelings drive the bus. I could have done a lot more to set the tone to be more positive, and I hope my criticisms of Ellis's positions don't come across as criticisms of her or, by proxy, you. I 100% support your dislike of Rent! And hers even. Though I disagree with some of her framing and conclusions, I also can't take that from her because it's how she experiences and interprets the show. That's the beauty of art, right? We all come to the table with something different and usually leave the same way too.
With that said, thanks for sharing your perspective. While I'd certainly argue the stage play is better, based on what you've shared here, you still probably wouldn't like it. The movie and play, while distinctly different, don't diverge enough to address your criticisms, IMO. I'm with Ellis in that the problems of Rent (for those that see them), exist in both forms.
Putting Rent to bed, how is Pose? I've seen positive mentions of it a few times but don't know too much about it. Also, is there any other AIDS-focused media you'd recommend? It's an interest area of mine, and while I'm familiar with a lot of the "big" names (e.g. Philadelphia, Angels in America, And the Band Played On, Rent obviously) I know there's plenty out there I haven't looked into.
I loved watching Pose so much. I wouldn't call Pose AIDS-focused; It's got it's place in the plot, but most of it is really focused on the ambitions and trials of it's characters, and AIDS is certainly a recurring theme. The acting can be over the top, but that's perfect for a show revolving around ballroom culture. Salvation through acts of compassion is a recurring theme, and I think you might love it for that reason alone.
My husband and I watched the first two episodes of Pose on your recommendation, and we're officially hooked! Thank you for the recommendation.
I think I need to rephrase this to better contextualise it: "For a musical released in a time when there weren't really very many depictions at all of gay people in the media, it was kind of uplifting to see a play with gay people, deadbeats or not." Remember: the musical came out in 1996, before 'The L Word', before 'Will & Grace', before 'Queer As Folk'. The main depiction of gay people in the mainstream to that point had been Tom Hanks' character dying of AIDS in 'Philadelphia'.
Of course, by the time the movie was made 10 years later, all that had changed. Ellen had come out, and all those TV shows I mentioned had been produced. But in 1996, gay people were not seen very much in mainstream entertainment.
But people are flawed, and not everyone works to fix those flaws. Most of us just muddle through, making the best of what we've got. The characters in 'Rent' are human, just like you and me.
This is a really cool write-up, from someone who saw their first performance of Rent at age 12, and had a copy of the soundtrack since that time as well. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the film, but I wasn't "into it" enough to know why, Rent was always this kind of "thing that was popular in my parents' time" and had some themes I could relate to, but was on the whole a pretty obtuse piece of art with fun songs. I greatly appreciated this breakdown, and just wanted you to know I feel like I learned a lot. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you. I hadn't read your response to Ellis' review when I wrote my own. And you've hit on the same point I did: "Rent is Lives, Rather than Morals". I watch 'Rent' for the human stories, not for an activist message. But, of course, you said it better than I did!
On a minor note:
I know, right? 'One Song Glory' is an amazing cri de couer by an artist wanting to make just that one piece of art which will outlive them and speak to other people throughout time, and to somehow make their mark on this world. But 'Your Eyes' is just a pedestrian rock-themed love song, despite the operatic riff near the end which is the only thing that lifts it out of the ordinary.
In addition to my "creation for its own sake" interpretation, I also have an intellectual handwave for the dissonance of "Your Eyes" being far inferior to "One Song Glory". In "Your Eyes" Roger says to Mimi "you were the song all along," which allows me to accept the fulfillment of his wish metaphorically, through Mimi, rather than literally, through "Your Eyes."
It's a total sidestep though, and an unsatisfying one at that. The truth is that "One Song Glory" is just incomparably good.
To be fair, I'm also not a huge fan of the movie.
I think much of the story is about capturing this particular period of youth that's volatile, passionate, rebellious, and assertive, but the movie flat out fails to show that at all because they hired a bunch of thirty-year-olds for the parts. I get that it's mostly the original cast and can appreciate that as a fan, but there's just a completely different subtext to thirty-somethings hemming and hawing about the injustice of paying rent.
I haven't watched the video yet but I am absolutely the target audience for a 45 minute critical video essay on Rent, so thank you for linking it.
EDIT: I thought I was done, but no, I couldn't leave it at that. I have more! With apologies to @Algernon_Asimov, I think the movie can be a particularly bad introduction to Rent for a couple of reasons:
The previously mentioned ages of the actors, which strongly influences interpretation.
The film cuts out a lot of the musical's brighter, more comical, and flat out weird moments (e.g. the singing voicemails), which makes it heavier than it needs to be. My favorite song from the show is "Christmas Bells" which was cut entirely from the movie. A lot of it won't make sense without the stage presentation to contextualize it (it's a lot of different things happening all at once), but you can get a sense for how it feels just by listening. It's odd and meaningful at the same time--arresting in its own unique way. It has an energy and identity that felt like it was missing from the movie. While the movie captures some of the contours of the story of Rent, I feel like it doesn't do justice to how Rent feels on the stage.
Most egregiously, it flat out lobotomizes the second act by cutting out the second half of "Goodbye Love." This is arguably the most important turning point of the show in that it is the setup for the emotional release of the ending. In the song, Mark and Roger who have been best friends and roommates for a long time, get in a nasty fight and go through a friend breakup, and then Roger and Mimi, the damaged young lovers, break up as Mimi battles her addiction and AIDS. It's heartbreaking--the musical's lowpoint.
Plotwise, this scene is what causes Roger to travel to New Mexico in the first place to get away from everything, and it makes his reuniting with Mark and Mimi actually mean something. Furthermore, the depth it brings you to is what gives the ending its requisite uplift. Without "Goodbye Love" the ending to the story doesn't feel like a powerful emotional finale so much as it does a car running out of gas.
I'd like to remind you that I wrote this: "Strangely, the movie is now my least favourite version of the musical". It may have been my gateway to 'Rent', but it's the worst representation of 'Rent' I've seen.
In fact, I've seen the movie only once, back in 2005/6 sometime. Since then, I've seen multiple live productions of the show, listened to the Broadway cast recording repeatedly, and watched the filming of the Broadway production a couple of times. I don't own the 2005 movie, and I've never watched it since.
So... to be honest... I don't remember its flaws as well as you do. I just remember the virtues of the play - which, in hindsight, probably make me remember the movie as better than it is, because I remember it as a filmed version of the amazing stageplay.
Understood. I just didn't want to yuck your yum or invalidate your experiences! I know plenty of people who genuinely like the movie, and many others, like you, for whom it was the entry point to the show, so I didn't want to just criticize it outright and potentially rain on your, or anyone else's, parade.
Also, the flaws stick out to me not because I'm super familiar with the movie but because I saw it with a friend who knew nothing of the play whatsoever. The movie was her first experience with it, and I ended up having to explain a whole lot to her after it was over. I think that's what made them have staying power for me (in addition to my acute fondness and therefore heightened vigilance for the show).
I wanted to hate that review. I love 'Rent'. When she set out by rhetorically asking "Does every musical need to necessarily challenge the culture it's trying to sell itself to?" I agreed with her answer: "God, no!"
However, ultimately, she made some good points. If 'Rent' was supposed to be an activist vehicle, then it failed.
But... as she herself says... "Not every musical, even the ones with explicitly revolutionary text, needs to be trying to tear down the system."
Sure, as she points out (and which I hadn't consciously realised), 'Rent' is mostly about entitled rich white kids choosing to be poor for the sake of their art, and that undermines any sense of actual revolution.
But I don't watch 'Rent' looking for the next proletarian revolution. I watch 'Rent' for the human story. I watch for the tension between Maureen and Joanne. I watch for the angst of Roger and Mimi. But I watch mostly for Angel's story. As the reviewer points out, in the stage show (although not necessarily the movie), Angel is the tragic innocent about whom the show pivots. Her story is heartbreaking and romantic and uplifting. She's a good person (even if she does some questionable things to survive), and she doesn't deserve to die. She finds love - and Collins is the sort of strong, caring, intelligent man that everyone wants in their life to love them and care for them.
I cry for Angel. I weep for her every time I watch 'Rent'. I feel uplifted by the idea that even a poor and sick person like her can find love in the middle of misery. I am pleased that she remains generous and giving and caring, despite what life has thrown at her. I am happy that her lover is an intelligent and compassionate person. When he sings "I'll cover you" in the first act, I'm touched and my heart warms for the joy of love found. When he sings it again in the second act, I weep uncontrollably for the grief of love lost.
And, on that note, the music in 'Rent' is fucking awesome! As I said elsewhere here, practically every song is a hit in its own right. There are very few "book" song in this show. I'll forgive almost anything in a musical which provides fucking awesome music. That's pretty much the point of writing a musical, rather than a straight drama: to make good music. If we want to watch an activist piece about AIDS, we could watch something like 'Angels in America' (as the reviewer mentioned), or Tom Hanks in 'Philadelphia'. 'Rent' is a musical, and it provides brilliant music. To me, that more than justifies its existence.
When I learned that 'Rent' was based on the opera 'La Boheme', I figured HIV/AIDS was just the modern version of tuberculosis, the historical disease of choice for tragedies.
The show I'm currently into is Come From Away, and I'm incredibly excited to see the touring cast when it comes to my area.
For those unfamiliar, it tells the story of Gander, Newfoundland starting on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Gander used to be a refueling station for planes crossing the Atlantic and thus had a large airport despite being quite a small town. On the morning of September 11th, when the United States closed their airspace following the terrorist attacks, large numbers of flights were diverted to Canadian cities. Gander, despite having a population of less than 10,000 people, took in nearly 7,000 passengers and housed and fed them for a week until they were able to return to their homes.
It's a beautiful, touching story. It celebrates kindness and neighborliness in a way that feels particularly important in today's political climate. The soundtrack isn't as listenable as other shows, especially poppier favorites like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, but what it lacks in shower-singability it makes up for in ensemble presence. Not only does that make for more interesting storytelling (and no doubt more interesting staging), but I feel like it also reinforces the play's focus on community. It isn't the story of any one individual--it's the story of a town and the people who got stranded there. In fact, there's only one song on the entire cast album that isn't an ensemble piece.
That song is "Me and the Sky", and it being the sole solo of the show gives it a pronounced resonance. It's the biographical story of Beverly Bass, American Airlines' first female captain who was flying on the morning of September 11th and had to divert her plane to Gander, Newfoundland. The song tells a beautiful life story and ends with a sudden punch straight to the heart, reminiscent of the way we all felt when we first became aware of what happened that morning.
That said, I appreciate that the musical doesn't revel in nor exploit the tragedy. Though the events of 9/11 are a backdrop and a necessary context for its story, they are distant from within the play. The musical isn't about what was happening in New York--it's about what was happening in Gander, and what was happening there was an extraordinary act of kindness.
Come from away was the last one I saw and I loved it too! It was one of the few I went in not really knowing anything about it, and it honestly just blew me away. I was so sad I wasn't able to buy its CD the night of so I could listen to it on my way home. (UPS lost a box apparently so they didn't have a lot of their merchandise available).
I don't even want to remember how much we paid for our Hamilton...But Hamilton will be touring in my hometown next year, so super excited about that.
I'm going to present the contrarian view. Of course, I am entirely of a live-and-let-live mindset: if you love musicals, that's great! I'm not going to tell you what or what not to like.
I have a tremendously difficult time watching musicals. My mind is unable to maintain suspension of disbelief when suddenly, in the middle of the story, everybody bursts into song.
The only musicals that I can really say that I enjoy are the ones that exhibit a bit of self-awareness about the entire situation. For example, I really enjoyed Avenue Q.
This is a meaningful contribution to the discussion, presented tastefully. Thanks for sharing this!
Out of curiosity, to see if this aligns with my own observations, does this self-awareness seem to be easier to demonstrate in an "alternate" reality? What's your opinion on South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut?
I would say so, yes.
Speaking of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, another musical that I liked was The Book of Mormon.
No worries! I think you'd find many people who agree with you, and I wouldn't attempt to convince you or them otherwise! Musicals, even serious ones, all have an embedded level of campiness and absurdity that some people simply can't get past, just by nature of their use of song as storytelling.
Plus, a lot of musical lyrics are clumsy, as they need to carry the weight of explicit narrative rather than simply sentiment. You really have to have a stomach for the awkwardness of sung conversation and functional moments. I definitely get how they can be offputting.
My housemate hates musicals because people just don't break out into singing like that in real life. :)
Well, I've never seen anything on Broadway to start. That may disqualify my opinion to some, but for others, read on.
My parents love to brag that they took us kids to see Rent at age 12, but to be honest, it just ensured that none of it would stick. I remember being really bored, and wondering why the dude from earlier scenes was standing on the stage in a white dress all of a sudden. None of the symbology was particularly interesting, but probably because I had no real-life experience to equate it to. It sure did add some color to my school days, though, being teased for singing songs from musicals instead of the radio.
I'd say having early exposure to musical format allowed me to be far more accepting of alternate takes on the genre. I saw Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors mentioned in another comment, but here are some of my favorite musicals that nobody else in the thread has explicitly mentioned: (in no particular order)
So yeah, my tastes diverge greatly from what's popular on and off Broadway. My parents still keep up with musicals; the last one I went with them to see was In The Heights, which I thought was OK, but as you can see, didn't make my list of favorites. So they don't really consider my opinion valid as far as musicals, but that's OK, I don't really consider their opinions on EDM very valid either, for example. :) Everything is subjective, anyway. Life's too short to hate on people for liking different things.
That said, please feel free to comment and tell me how everything I like is terrible! \o/
Don't let Broadway be the anchor or validation for your interest--I've never seen anything on Broadway either (and probably never will), but I still love musicals!
Also, I'd forgotten about Dr. Horrible. What a treat that was! Thanks for reminding me. I think I'm due for a rewatch.
I realized this summer that I'm a musical fan and I wasn't even really aware of it. My wife pointed out that I quote several musicals on a regular basis. My son and daughter have also discovered musicals, mostly through kids movies, but also through Hamilton. My son (ten) regularly sings You'll Be Back from Hamilton and it's one of the darn cutest things I've ever seen.
My favorite musical is The Music Man. Close runner up would have to be Les Miserables, mostly because I have fond memories of seeing it at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta as a kid.
I was raised on musicals between Singin' in the Rain, New York New York, and other Gene Kelly pictures-- not to mention Disney, Sesame Street, and other kid's media slipping musicals in their segments.
My wife doesn't really care for them, so I admittedly haven't been keeping up with the modern ones in either cinema nor plays (though we couldn't really afford tickets if we'd wanted to), but I think since my birthday month is coming up soon and this thread is giving me some ideas, she's just gonna have to suffer. If anyone has any recommendations for ones made in the last 10 years, aside from La La Land (which I wanted to like, but just kinda thought was meh), I'm all ears.
I'm amazed that nobody has brought up Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I love how the show is really campy and has a very queer presentation, while the message behind it is completely universal. The music is also really good; it's 'musical-ish' while still maintaining a pop-rock edge. My favorite song is, without a doubt, Wicked Little Town.
Of course, I've only seen the film version with David Cameron Mitchell (who is perfect for the role, by the way). It may not have been adopted from a 'formal' musical, but honestly I think this movie is the best musical adaptation of all time, largely as a result of massive changes to it's narrative framing.
I was kind of hoping someone here had seen the Broadway shows with Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig to tell me if it was any good. I know it won a number of Tonys. Unfortunately I couldn't afford the trip to New York, much less a ticket.
My fiance saw the Broadway version with John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig and she absolutely loved it.
I don't like most musicals. Maybe Disney traumatized me. Every time a character pauses the story to make a long description of its feelings I start to doze off. I'm not interested in descriptions, I'm interested in the story... you know, the things that happen! But there are a few musicals I enjoyed, partly because in most of them significant things happen during the songs. All movies:
I don't really get into watching too many musicals (although I have seen a few on Broadway over the years), but I LOVE playing in the band for them. It has been about ten years since I have done one but I would jump at a chance to do it again. Shows I have played (includes high school, college and professional productions): Camelot, Oklahoma, Hair (twice), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Godspell, Evita, West Side Story, Working, Baby, Anything Goes, Glenngarry Glenn Ross (just adding incidental music in between scenes), Assassins, and an original play called A Silent Symphony (based on the life of Beethoven). Unfortunately I never played Jesus Christ Superstar but I would KILL for a chance at that show.
Out of curiosity, what instrument/s do you play?
Neato. And that definitely explains why you want to play Jesus Christ Superstar, too. There are some pretty sick drum and piano heavy songs all throughout, so I figured you might play one or the other. ;)