So the whole point of this series of Rent posts is that I spent the afternoon Sunday watching the show’s final Broadway performance on the big screen. I wasn’t sure if I was going to go see it; I had my moment(s) with the show, and the best ones were in the past. The high school production was sort of a fitting way to let the show rest in my memory–new energy and excitement, a sense of the impact that the piece has had as was going to continue to have in the life of young theater lovers (and some folks who didn’t even know that theater could be something they’d like). Sitting through the filmed version of the final show would mean watching a new cast do their impressions of Idina and Adam and Daphne and Jesse and Aiko (who *still* is the only person who has ever pulled off Alexi Darling, in my eyes). They’d never measure up. I’d be saddened by the whole thing. It could color my memories. I waited until the very last showing of it, conceivably the last showing ever (the film was given a monumentally limited release). As late as fifteen minutes before showtime, I wasn’t sure I was going to go.
I’m glad I did.
The major problem with ending on the high school production as a final memory became clear to me pretty early on: they hadn’t done the whole show. Pieces were edited, songs were cut, words were changed. It was a tribute, and a moving one, but it wasn’t the show. Same was true of the movie. But this–this was the whole show, straightforward, intermission and all, just like seeing it onstage. This was a good thing.
While the casting had been my biggest fear, it proved pretty unfounded. Sure, Eden Espinosa does an almost uncanny Idina Menzel impression throughout, but I think it’s unfair to even call it an impression. I think these two performers are just that similar. She was great with Tracie Thoms, who, like I said a few posts back, is kind of a perfect Joanne. The other performers more than held their own, taking things in new directions and, while not accomplishing the impossible mission of measuring up to the performances I fell in love with at New York Theater Workshop twelve years ago, capturing the spirit of joy and defiance that makes the show what it is. And there was even some original flavor in that final cast, with Gwen Stewart back in the ensemble (she’s the soloist on Seasons of Love, and she’s responsible for one of my favorite bits of dialogue in the piece: “This lot is full of motherfucking artists. Hey artist, got a dollar? I thought not.”
And the thing is, the show simply holds up, even better than I think most of us thought it would when we first saw it. The good stuff is really good, incredibly smart and emotional and fun. “La Vie Boheme” is always going to work. “Take Me or Leave Me” should have been a big pop hit. “I’ll Cover You (reprise)” will always make folks cry. The show is well-written, well-scored, and beautifully structured (until the last 25%, of course). It’s a great show. It really is a great show.
When the performance ended, the cast came out to take their bows, then left the stage…to be replaced by much of the original cast (very disappointing not to see Idina and Taye…or Aiko, for that matter), who then led a huge group of company members in another round of Seasons of Love. It was all fitting really, and the only possible way to close it all out.
And then, of course, after everyone bowed, the screen faded to a picture of Jonathan Larson.
We all got our chance to say goodbye.