Monday, November 21, 2011

Take Me Or Leave Me (from Rent)

To have a character in a popular film who is a homosexual or transgender is no longer shocking. But once upon a time it was. In 1993, when Rent made it’s premiere off-Broadway, this show about young adults struggling to survive in the Manhattan’s Lower East Side brought important issues out into open.

Like the Jonathan Demme’s film Philadelphia that came out the same year, Rent has characters that are challenged the ideas of the America’s traditional views of sexuality and face head-on the effect of AIDs.

Both Rent and Philadelphia were monumentally important for portraying these characters not as stereotypes but giving these people souls that challenge people’s idea of what it meant to be a homosexual and how serious and devastating AIDs was to all of us.

What is left though when you take away what made Rent “important”? Watching Rent at Northwestern University I wasn’t shocked by the main character Roger dealing with the fact that his ex was now a lesbian. The prevalence of AIDs in the characters honestly made me think:



If you pull away the social issues what you are left with is a musical that is very much like the characters in the film who are full of energy, passion, immaturity, and focus more on the moment than the bigger picture. There are too many songs, many of which are too long, and too many plot threads, but there are also moments of musical and dramatic brilliance that leave you breathless.

For me the most polished and memorable song is “Take Me Or Leave Me.”



This song works far beyond the shock it once had of “Oh My God, it’s two Lesbians singing!!” It’s a great relationship exchange. There’s plenty examples in broadway of this kind of duet but most of the time it’s one sided like “Sue Me” from Guys and Dolls.”



This song is fun and quirky.  The characterizations come clear through the song and while the song is fight at its heart, there's a joy and pride in these characters who embracing there flaws with pride.  That is exactly what has made Rent one of the most popular musicals of all time.  If all this show was about was AIDs, it's influence would be limited.  What this show really is about is people embracing who they are and who they want to be.  There's a brilliant innocence in this show in the face of life's most serious trials and it's in this we find not only the dreams of these characters but our own.

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