Rent Revisited – Episode #121 – December 24, 2020
JESS: (sings) December 24th, Nine PM, Eastern Standard Time. From here on in I shoot without a script, see if anything comes of it, instead of my old shit. First shot – Andrew tuning the Fender guitar he hasn't played in a year.
ANDREW: This won’t tune.
JESS: So we hear. He's just coming back from half a year of withdrawal.
ANDREW: You talking to me?
JESS: Not at all. Are you ready? Hold that focus – steady. Tell the folks at home what you're doing, Andrew...
ANDREW: I'm writing one great song.
JESS: Oh, the phone rings. Who do we have? A special guest. All right. All right. We're done with that. That was my fun lil opening, guys.
BRIANNA: And I’m Brianna Jones.
JESS: We did it. We did it. I got to have my fun and everyone got introduced.
ANDREW: He got to have this fun.
JESS: It's Christmas Eve. We’re doing something we've never done is revisit an episode and we've got a guest. I really, I really do want to welcome our very special guest - podcaster, set designer, and Rent defender Kelly Lin Hayes. Kelly!
ANDREW: There’s no Rent defenders in the world. This is the only one.
JESS: This is it. It’s on her resume.
KELLY: It’s only me. Just me.
ANDREW: Kelly versus the world.
KELLY: I wanna put that on my resume now. I’ll put that on my resume.
JESS: “I will defend Rent to the death. It is good and I promise.” So –
ANDREW: Sounds like a landlord to me.
JESS: Yeah, little bit. We got Benny right there.
KELLY: Oh, Jesus.
JESS: All right. All right. We're playing around and goofing around, but Kelly - you're the reason why we're all here today. What are we covering today? Again?
KELLY: We are covering Rent.
JESS: Cue the music, Bree.
ANDREW: (sings) Déjà vu. I’ve been in this place before.
JESS: Yeah, a little bit.
KELLY: I didn't know I was your first revisit.
JESS: Well, this is our first revisited episode. We've never revisited one we've done before.
ANDREW: If there's any episode that needed a revisit, I feel like this is the one.
JESS: Yeah, this is the one where it’s like – it was our second episode. We hadn't hit our stride –
ANDREW: This was the second show I've ever watched?
JESS: It was the second musical Andrew has ever seen. And when you follow it to Sweeney Todd, it's a big jump in stylistic choices alone that it just kind of throws you for a loop. But for those of you who don't know, Rent is a musical rock opera with music, lyrics, and book by Jonathan Larson based on La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini – I’ve been able to say that before. It opened on April 29, 1996 on Broadway. It closed on September 7, 2008 after a 12-year run and 5,123 performances, making it the 11th longest running Broadway show. The production grossed over $280 million. Rent gained critical acclaim, won several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical. And the plot is about a penniless songwriter’s love for a young woman that grows even as an illness begins to consume her and a bunch of other nonsense. We get what Rent is about –
ANDREW: How many episodes in and Jess still can’t talk?
JESS: I just - I talk like I'm an alcoholic and this episode 121? It has to be. And also –
ANDREW: Oh my goodness.
JESS: Oh shit, you left the door open, Andrew. The Christmas got in again. This is a Christmas episode.
(The Christmas comes in)
ANDREW: This is a Christmas episode and we didn't even mention it.
JESS: Literally, this is being posted on December 24. It is –
KELLY: I know, I saw. I am so excited. I'm so excited about that. It's an honor to be on this Christmas episode.
JESS: This is very special, Kelly.
KELLY: And it's all because I yelled at you on Twitter.
JESS: Well, this is going to be, once again –
ANDREW: I didn’t hear about this.
JESS: This is not going to be an episode like you've ever heard before. This is the changing-of-lanes Musicals with Cheese episode, where we're starting with our favorite segment – Breeviews - and a very special, very special reading of Kelly Lin Hayes’ tweets - subtweeting - about us, as she listened to our podcast on Rent for the very first time.
KELLY: Yeah, it was a vague tweet.
JESS: And then I found out about it - found it like the creeper I am - and now we're about to hear it. So, do we want to have Bree read it? Or do we want Ben Brantley to read it?
BRIANNA: Ben Brantley.
ANDREW: It’s not Ben Brantley.
JESS: I think we need Ben Shapiro to read it and then Bree will take care of the real Breeviews.
KELLY: Oh my god.
ANDREW: I feel like even having Ben Shapiro read these is gonna be bad. Because if I remember anything about our Rent episode, it was pretty bad.
JESS: It was bad. It was bad. I do highly recommend you guys revisit that episode before listening to this one.
KELLY: I’ll read it.
JESS: No, Kelly. I want you to listen to the words you wrote. Andrew, take over.
ANDREW: All right. Oh, okay. Hypothetically, okay. “Why did I listen to this Rent podcast when I'm on my Rent binge? This is a poor decision. It's just two people shitting on Rent for a half an hour.”
JESS: Alright, that was tweet 1. No lie detected so far.
ANDREW: No, it's it was pretty accurate so far. “I want so badly to hear both sides. But who is this format for? Even on my podcast, when I hate a show, I try and find a better way to put it. Surely puts me off the entire podcast.”
JESS: Was this your first episode of our podcast you listened to?
ANDREW: This is the second episode of the show we had.
KELLY: It was a bad start.
JESS: Alright, Ben Shapiro, continue.
ANDREW: Oh my goodness –
JESS: There's a lot.
ANDREW: How bad was our – that episode was pretty bad. “I’m really trying to sift through for actual good points, but them calling it trash is getting in the way. There's no relief. Truly two people shitting on it for half an hour. I'd much prefer Lindsay Ellis’ video. That is hard for me to listen to.”
JESS: All right.
ANDREW: You know what? Honestly accurate so far. I can't rewatch that episode.
JESS: I can’t either. I have not revisited.
ANDREW: “Over The Moon is supposed to be cringe performance art. What is this podcast?”
JESS: What is this podcast indeed. And now you stoop low enough to join us.
ANDREW: It might be cringe performance art, but it does start a riot. So, try to take it a little seriously.
KELLY: We'll get to it. We'll get to it.
ANDREW: I can’t read - I'm sorry, these are really good. These are great tweets. This is a compliment. “Like, it is because when people talk about it on a known podcast, it enables tons of people to hate on something for no reason. Like people shit on Hamilton just because it's popular. Like this podcast reads like an episode of Cinemasins.” I can’t even keep the voice going.
JESS: That is honestly the one thing that offended me. I was like, “Wow, are we really that bad?”
ANDREW: We’re a little better than that. Like a little. Maybe not.
JESS: No, we’re not.
ANDREW: Not in the Rent episode.
KELLY: Not during this episode. You were –
ANDREW: “Why are they making AIDS jokes?”
JESS: I told you, Andrew, that one –
ANDREW: That was mean.
JESS: And that was you.
ANDREW: We shouldn’t have done that.
JESS: We shouldn’t have done that.
ANDREW: That was bad. But again, I think when we were making these episodes, we didn't think anyone would watch them to be honest.
JESS: Yeah, we didn’t expect this to be a series. We expected it to be a one-off goof that we did.
ANDREW: It was gonna be like, we did two episodes and then we just kind of stopped for half a year. And I think this was like one of those two?
JESS: Yeah, it was.
KELLY: Oh, okay.
JESS: Cus this wasn't meant to be a podcast. This was meant to be just like a weird YouTube video out there for the world.
ANDREW: “There are so many story reasons I think people don't like Rent, and they are all valid. But honestly, this podcast does a bad job of it. I will also say if you accuse Rent of capitalizing on a man's death, you should probably spend more than two seconds explaining it.” That's, I mean, that's a good point. That was probably Jess. I didn’t even know the backstory.
JESS: I don’t think it’s that it capitalized on it. I said that a lot of that helped the marketing a bit.
KELLY: Well, yeah, you had a whole question about like, “Do you think Rent would have succeeded if there was not - ”
JESS: I think it was a question I raised. But -
KELLY: Which is a valid question.
JESS: I don't think I said, “Well, they just marketed off - ” I don't think it was cynical like that, in my opinion of what actually happened.
ANDREW: This next one is, “They made a Tick, Tick... Boom! episode later, that made better points about Rent.”
KELLY: Yeah, I did listen to that one afterward.
JESS: It was a good follow up.
ANDREW: That was, honestly, that was a better Rent episode than our actual Rent episode. I will say that. “Two people who hate Rent so much is a bad combo to talk about Rent. Maybe if you had like one person who semi-liked Rent, you could have an honest discussion about the show. This is why I like J&T way better.” That’s Jim & Tomic, right?
JESS: Yeah, that’s Jim & Tomic.
ANDREW: “And I hope when they do it, it isn’t like this.” Well, you know what? You’re here to defend it now.
JESS: No, no, no, Andrew. I'm gonna ask Tommy to invite us on so it'll be just like that.
KELLY: I wanna go on that podcast to talk about Rent. I’ll go on both podcasts to talk about Rent. I could talk 10 straight hours about this show.
ANDREW: We got an hour and 20.
ANDREW: We got as long as we need.
JESS: Yeah, we got two more tweets, Andrew. Two more tweets.
ANDREW: “Like hating something colors your judgment? Like maybe you miss that Collins talks about being fired in Today 4 U. And I understand that. I will never do a podcast on Phantom or Cats because I’m meh on those musicals. And I don't think I'd be able to unbiasedly review it.” You know, fair. That's fair. Although –
JESS: This was the one time we tried to putting it out for a vote and they voted for this to be the episode, though.
KELLY: Yeah. That's one of - when we get into it, that's one of my notes that I have of the podcast. I listened to it three hours ago, so –
ANDREW: Oh, god. I didn’t re-listen to it.
JESS: And I will say that we probably would have done better if we didn’t have people vote for it. Yeah, I didn’t listen to it either. Last tweet. Last one.
KELLY: Last one.
ANDREW: “Oh, they don't like Hamilton and love Great Comet.”
JESS: When did we say we didn’t like Hamilton?
ANDREW: I liked Hamilton. Did we say we didn’t like Hamilton?
KELLY: No, Andrew said that -
JESS: Oh, he just didn't like the Tonys performance.
ANDREW: Oh. It was the one song that I had listened to and that was it.
KELLY: Andrew was like, “I don’t like this.” Or something like that.
JESS: That was literally, he just sat there like, “I don’t think I like this.”
ANDREW: It was a single song. I have actually watched the entire thing now. And I do like it.
KELLY: Yeah, I listened to that podcast.
ANDREW: I think I just got a bad impression from the single performance they did in the Tonys. And that was it. “Like, just treat the show like it's a show. If they stopped trying to be cruel, funny, for five seconds, I would actually be able to listen to it.”
JESS: Good point.
ANDREW: “I don't know what I'm to say. I'm so tired.”
JESS: All right. Bravo, bravo.
KELLY: “I’m so tired”
JESS: All right. You know? That was a wonderful one-act play right there.
KELLY: Thank you so much.
JESS: Like, I feel like I should’ve paid money to see that.
ANDREW: And you know what? They can't say we don't respond to critics.
JESS: We don't. I mean, Kelly, you have to admit, with that, we took that pretty well. I was like, “You know what? You should come on.”
KELLY: Yeah, yeah. I think I have a much nicer interaction that I think got me onto the podcast with Emily?
JESS: Emily Clark?
KELLY: Emily Clark. Yeah, it was basically Emily saying... I'll do it fast. But it was Emily - It was a whole thread about how she wished people would understand the context before they shit on it. It's all screenshots, I'm going all the way back. Um, it says, “I know it’s cool to dunk on Rent.” Hi, Emily. “I know it's cool - ”
JESS: You know she’ll listen.
ANDREW: She’s listening, I’m sure.
KELLY: Yeah, yeah. “ - But there's something lost in the discourse about how Jonathan Larson was trying to honor his friends who died of AIDS & then never got to write a new draft because of his untimely death. It's a flawed show but damn. It's from 1990s Buh-roadway.” And then I wrote something like, “I would like to add - seeing mostly white people diss the show when I, a queer BIPOC, found so much love and it spurred my social justice heart. I find it unfair people just shit on it without looking at the context.” And then later, I said something like, “I love Lindsay Ellis and she has some great points on the AIDS epidemic. But context, Lindsey. And it has like 2 million views.” And then you guys jumped on at some point.
JESS: I did it. That was me.
KELLY: You did. Yeah. I said, um, I talked about - I was trying to do a Rent video essay to respond to it or whatever. And then you said, “Yeah, our Rent episode was very early in our run. While we do mention Jonathan Larson's talent and legacy, we could have been much more fair to the show all together.” And then you said, “Oncoming revisit to Rent is on our docket.” And then I said, “I'm not saying there's a vague tweet somewhere on my archives about it, but - ”, and then, “It's nice to hear growth.” And then you guys said, “Feel free to tag us when you have critiques of our show. Getting called out helps us garner thoughts and experiences.” And I was like, “I think the adaptation, while maybe executed fixed a lot of problems, I do think it could be pushed even further. I'm glad that they made the changes they did.” Because we started talking about Rent: Live.
ANDREW: I did watch Rent: Live.
KELLY: That's where you found me.
JESS: Yes. And then I said “Hey, who wants to be on our show? I want more different people.” And you're like, “I will defend Rent’s honor.” “Well, shit that's on our schedule anyway. Come on over.”
KELLY: Oh, did I?
ANDREW: We got the Rent white knight coming in to defend its honor.
JESS: We got the Rent white knight coming in. Alright, so -
ANDREW: I'm not gonna shit on it this time.
JESS: We might. We might a little bit but that's –
KELLY: That’s okay. I mean. Yeah, I’m not - I said in the thing, it has its problems.
JESS: Yes it does.
KELLY: I’m not gonna be like, “Only Rent forever. Only musical you can consume. There's only Rent.”
ANDREW: If we were gonna pick just one, it would be Cats. I mean, that's the one I’d keep.
JESS: Or Joseph. You love Joseph.
ANDREW: Or Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.
KELLY: Andrew Lloyd Webber's.
JESS: Andrew relates.
ANDREW: I'm named Andrew. So -
JESS: It's also important to note. Since our Rent episode, there have been numerous changes to Rent as a show and different productions that are both widespread and well seen. And I have opinions on them. Would you believe it? So, this show - we're not gonna be talking about the original Broadway productions. We're not going to be talking about the film, but we're going to be talking about Rent: Live on Fox and the Hope Mill Playhouse version. That's what we're focusing on today. And Andrew’s watched both of them.
ANDREW: I watched one of them yesterday, and I just got done with the other one a couple minutes ago.
KELLY: Oh, that’s so nice.
JESS: I want to know - which one did you like better, Andrew? Because they're both very different.
ANDREW: I think I preferred Rent on Fox, if I'm honest, which might maybe is the wrong opinion, I'm not sure.
JESS: It’s not the wrong opinion. Um, there's things I like from both of them, I think is the best way. And I want take bits from one, bits from another and then my own thoughts, and then put it together into something new. And that's what the third act of this podcast is gonna be is - us pitching new versions of Rent. But Kelly - we have not heard your history with Rent. We know ours. We want to know yours.
ANDREW: Jess, you have to share yours too.
JESS: Oh, yeah. I gotta talk about that soon.
KELLY: Oh, man. I kinda wanna hear that first.
JESS: Oh, I’ll go first if you want.
KELLY: Oh, go. Go ahead. Go.
JESS: Um, so I was - We were a different show back when we started. We were a wholly, wholly different thing. And we were a much shorter show. So, we were like 20 minutes because we were YouTube videos.
KELLY: Yeah, it was like 37 minutes or something.
JESS: It was a short, short thing. And I didn't go into my history with Rent, where a lot of people on the internet might just think I saw it as an adult and always hated it because adult looking at Rent is bad. I loved Rent as a kid. Like, I really, really, really liked Rent as a kid. I saw it four or five times live. I saw it live since I have done that first podcast. I have a lot of letters I wrote to Jonathan Larson’s sister. There is shit in my docket of me appreciating and liking Rent and not a lot of that has gone away. But it was the discovery that I didn't exactly know what the plot was about as a child and as I got older, understanding that being like, “Oh, that's weird,” and “Oh, I don't like that,” and “Oh,” one thing after another. It's like my disdain for it grew and I feel like that's gonna be a lot of the process of these kids who experienced Dear Evan Hansen based on the cast album and they love the cast album and they eventually will learn what the plot is and be like, “Oh, that's weird,” and, “I don't like that,” and then that will be the big one that everyone takes a bit massive swing of, “That is garbage, everyone hates it,” which it - even in our episode - I think we're a little too unfair to that show.
KELLY: I think it's - you're kind of seeing it now but that's because there's a big renaissance in diverse casting and especially with Evan Hansen. So that's a big reason for it right now, but continue.
JESS: But I also think that as I grew older, I saw Rent for what it was, which is unfinished work by a very, very talented composer restrained by a dictator-like director that ruined a lot of the interesting things he was trying to do with the original version, and made it a weird family comedy. As strange as it might sound. That is what Rent eventually became - a thing that kids and parents go to see and it's like Disney version of AIDS in a weird way. It feels toothless, especially in the later run of the Broadway show. And we need some –
ANDREW: It feels like it could be so edgy, but it’s not.
JESS: It could. And I think Jonathan wanted it to be edgy. Because if you read the - J. Collis, who was on our Tick... Tick... BOOM! Episode - great guy - wrote an entire book about the process of writing Rent, and how edgy it once started, and how that slowly gets chipped away by each new collaborator and each new person coming in, until we eventually have what we have now. A great story he told me - and basically this is going to move from me talking about the greatness of Jonathan Larson to what a dick Michael Greif was - and I've heard it from numerous people that both know the man personally as well as those who have worked with him and stories from Jonathan himself to others. He was a rough man to work with, who wanted dancing and everything to be showtuney and work on the cheap for everything. He once - Jonathan called up his friend who was addicted to heroin and was like, “So when you were on heroin, were you dancing around and shit?” He was like, “No, I just kind of laid on a couch.” “That's what I thought. This motherfucker wants to put dancing in everything,” and hung up the phone.
ANDREW: Dancing heroin addicts, oh no.
JESS: I mean, there is a way that that could work, but not in the way that Jonathan was going for. And honestly, I feel - I would have been interested if he had a different director collaborating with him in the New York Theatre Workshop days. But, we don't have that timeline. We've got what we've got. And unlike a lot of other Broadway shows, where they were given the right to adapt and change with time... Since Jonathan died, it was set in stone and they were afraid to touch it. And I think 30 years on, we're getting less afraid to mess with it. And that's a good thing. But Kelly - do you agree with anything I just said or did I just ramble on for three hours?
KELLY: No, I agree with you. I think that as I've gotten into the industry, I think a lot of understanding how directing works. Because I'm only a set designer, but a lot of what I do is starting to look a lot like directing. Like, you'll see my vision for Rent is a very director-heavy kind of thing. So, my history with the show was - I was like 10. And I was in the car with my mom and her favorite song came up, Seasons of Love, and I was like, “What's this song?” And my mom was like, “Oh, it's Seasons of Love”. And I was like, “Cool.” And so, she bought me the entire album without knowing what it was about. She did that with Avenue Q too. So, she got me the Rent album, I listened to it so many times, it skips. I've also watched the movie so many times, it skips. I saw it three times on Broadway. The last time I saw it was with Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal in their original roles when they were doing that little promotion for the end of it. And that was when I was like 12 or 13. And back then, I definitely wasn't as critical about it. And I'm 25 now. But as I got older and I started to go into these social justice circles and started talking a lot about representation on Broadway and representation just in general, I wound up coming back to Rent every single time because I would talk about things like Collins and Angel being one of the only couples to be both BIPOC and queer and be together. And that is still, 2020, still incredibly revolutionary. Which is awful. And then they die at the end. Like, there's no happy ending for that. Angel dies. Spoiler. And then the other shows that do it that I can think of that are popular, like West End, Broadway, is the Color Purple does it, with Shug and Celie. They have a nice little relationship and then, that they don't get together. And then & Juliet, which I am making my campaign to come back for. Because Francoise and May from & Juliet are both queer BIPOC. May is gender fluid and Francoise is I think pansexual. But - I'm doing it according to the actors - but May’s actor is a half Punjabi and half Black. And then Francois’ actor is half Sri Lankan. And also, Francois, the guy who plays Francois is also larger. Like, the body type is larger, which you also never see. And so, seeing that kind of brought me back into seeing that. and then I had a really weird Renaissance into Rent where I was liking it, like –
JESS: A Rentaissance?
KELLY: Oh my god, and then –
KELLY: And so, I was with the both of them. So, seeing those two couples be in such close proximity and then being so far apart time-wise – what, like 25, my age - 25 years - is like, so incredible to see. And of course, there are a lot of other Off-Broadway shows and musicals and I'm not knocking those at all, that absolutely have had those couples, but I'm saying in the light of popularity, which is why I'll also defend the movie a little bit, if you slide into those DMs to yell at me about the movie, I will defend. I remember listening to the commentary because Jess said that he listened to the commentary today. And I listened to it like it was a Bible. And so, I remember listening and them saying people walked out of the theater when Collins and Angel kissed. And I was listening to an interview with, you know, about & Juliet. And they were saying people walk out of the theater when they see Francois and May kiss. Like, I hate to inform people but the world is not, as you know, as accepting as we think it is. We can ask for both. I always say you can do both, you can ask for more representation in the form of new musical theater of Asian queer writers, you know, like Interstate, Akira & the Merpeople Musical, Peter and the Wave, which are all three Asian-American musical theater pieces that are new, that are all queer. And then you also want to demand more from your revivals and more from your other types of media, like & Juliet and Rent. And so that's kind of like my life philosophy on that, on representation.
JESS: I also find that just sliding people of color into revivals tends to also raise a lot of other questions. Like Joshua Henry in Carousel. I think he is a beautiful choice for that, but the visual of an African-American man that beats a white woman - and that is his arc - that is not the most positive representation. And it's weird, like, it's a good conversation to have, good things to think about, but you have to think about it is the thing. You can't just be like, “Oh, we'll just hire this guy. He's a person of color.” No, that's not how this works.
KELLY: Yeah, yeah. I absolutely encourage people to think about what they do. I've had multiple conversations about Rent and recasting and all of that stuff. And I was asking somebody about the casting of having Mark - what is the importance of Mark being white? What is the importance of Maureen being white? And there is a little bit about performative activism in those characters.
KELLY: I still don't know why Roger can’t be a BIPOC character, I would love to see that.
JESS: And there's also a side of it, where both Maureen and Mark are Jewish. And that is an important part of their characters and things that come up and whether or not that is properly represented in what they do and all that - and there is an argument there. I'm not smart enough to make it, but I've heard it made.
KELLY: With the fact that they're Jewish?
JESS: Yeah, that it's hard to just slide in –
ANDREW: It's not so brought up a lot in the show, though.
JESS: It comes up enough where they're very memorable lines where their Judaism is mentioned.
ANDREW: Yeah, I'm not saying it's not there. It's just not - I wouldn't call it the major part of the show.
KELLY: I mean, also, BIPOC Jewish people exist, so -
ANDREW: I would never argue that a Rent does a poor job of representation and I don't think we said that in our original podcast.
JESS: No, no, no, no, but also the fact that we didn't bring up and praise it is an issue in and of itself because no one was doing it at the time. It was a solo kind of feat.
JESS: Because what was out at the time? Sunset Boulevard, Passion?
KELLY: They had also Falsettos and Kiss of the Spider Woman, I also believe was out. Which is a torture musical?
JESS: Kiss of the Spider Woman? All I know is it's about guys in prison.
KELLY: Yeah, it's like a torture musical.
JESS: Oh, God.
ANDREW: Like Saw?
KELLY: Almost like a war prison kind of story?
JESS: Oh god.
KELLY: Don’t quote me on it. But it was not - I wouldn't, you know?
JESS: I mean, all I remember is Chita Rivera.
KELLY: As positive representation as you can get, without, you know. I think Rent did a good job.
JESS: What would you rank Falsettos as well as representation? I kind of wish there was more color in most representations of Falsettos.
KELLY: Yeah, I think that Jewish people of color exist.
JESS: I do, too. But I do think that they should be cast in Jewish roles is more what I'm trying to say. Jewish people should be in Jewish roles.
KELLY: Oh, yeah. And I think that that's a big part of representation. I know that the UK cast of Falsettos was under fire for that.
JESS: Rightfully so, in my opinion.
JESS: Yeah, all of these conversations of representation are getting us to the point where we can start talking more and more and more about it. Like, for example the actor who plays May in & Juliet is not non-binary. And so, people are asking for that. So, people are asking that role be, you know, considered if or when that actor leaves. And so, I think that you're just seeing a huge demand at this point, because people aren't asking anymore. People don't want to ask anymore. People are just ending it. And I think that that's kind of great.
JESS: I think it's great, too. And I also think things like that could kill a show, like we mentioned a couple weeks ago on Jagged Little Pill, about how they PR-bundled a lot of shit, and bungled a lot of shit going on there. And what could have been some great representation, they just dropped the ball. We're not reopening that conversation up again.
KELLY: Yeah, yeah, I did hear about it, though. I did hear about that.
JESS: We got to talk a bit about these adaptations. Because we're about halfway into the episode, we got to talk about Rent: Live, which premiered - it was January of 2019. Right then. And it was not technically live. Because –
ANDREW: It was going to be live though, right? There was an accident or something.
JESS: Yeah, the gentleman who played Roger broke his foot in the dress rehearsal that aired. And so, when the live - They didn't have an understudy, which is fucking wacky, because I know NBC definitely has understudies for all their people.
KELLY: Yeah, I didn't get that. I didn’t get it at all.
JESS: But all the show in and of itself for being a dress rehearsal, I think is one of the better live shows there have ever been. I mean, compared to The Grinch live from last week.
ANDREW: We don't have to compare it to that.
KELLY: Yeah, I was blown away by their set design, because I think that when you start to open up - I mean, I'll compare it to Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet. I was also just talking to Jess about this, but when you open up a world where you can suddenly interact with people, or you're like, five - you know, this close to somebody – it really opens you to a new world of theater. And I think that that is really important for bonding with characters and sympathizing with characters. And so, for me - I mean, like, Will I Lose My Dignity?
JESS: Oh, that scene is heartbreaking.
KELLY: It is one of the best. That was so good live. And I remember really liking that. liked La Vie Bohème a lot. I like all of the group songs. And it's a running theme that I really enjoy the ensemble. But like, that's what I really enjoyed about Rent: Live, is it was just so well conceptualized - the cameras and just the design of going through a hallway during Out Tonight. I remember being like, “Where is that on the set?”, looking for it like in the set. And that was just such an interesting way to way to do it. But, you're gonna hear a lot of set design stuff for me.
JESS: Yeah, that’s what you do.
ANDREW: I think the aesthetic of this production is a lot better than the ones I've seen in the past. At least I personally like it better. I think it looks more industrial, they have the whole construction theme going on, which I like. And the costumes, I found were a lot better. Like, they actually look like punks, which is kind of what they're supposed to be - in my thought, anyways. Whereas I always thought that the ones that I saw from like, when it first came out, they look like hipsters? It just doesn't fit quite as well for me. I don't know. That's a little bit of a nitpick, I guess, but I thought this one did that better.
JESS: I also appreciate some of things that they had to work around because of TV, I think made the whole thing better. Jonathan Larson, when writing Rent, wanted something you didn't really experience on Broadway, so he put in a lot of swearing – like, vulgar swearing, but now we've had a point where that novelty has worn off because we got shit like Hasa Diga Eebowai currently on Broadway every day, with its issues, but that exists on Broadway. And just white people saying, “Fuck,” is not going to quite blow our minds. And I think –
ANDREW: So edgy. Cut myself on the edge.
JESS: But taking those away made the entire piece feel more mature. Like, pointless swearing being removed made me actually listen to the words a bit more, especially early on and, like, “This lot is full of motherfucking artists.” That line hits harder without the “motherfucking” and I felt that way in the movie as well.
ANDREW: When you when you add a swear, it just sounds like a joke.
JESS: Yes, and like hearing - Oh, I forget, was a Tinashe who played Mimi? Is that how you say her name?
KELLY: Uh, I do not know. I have not -
JESS: Okay. But in the part of Goodbye Love where she's like, “Don't commit, you're full of it.” Like, and chokes on the word “it” because she's crying. It works better than just screaming, “You're full of shit,” at a funeral. I think a lot of those things that there were boundaries and could have been detriments to the show, overall worked a lot better.
ANDREW: Maybe is a matter of opinion, I guess. Probably depends who you ask.
JESS: I mean, it depends who you ask, but I don't think Mark really needs to say the fuck word during Tango Maureen.
KELLY: Yeah, because that's what they argued for for the movie.
JESS: And it's dumb.
KELLY: The PG 13 rating. You can only have two f words and they kept them in Tango Maureen.
JESS: Which is so dumb.
KELLY: Instead of having the homeless woman say it, which I thought would have been a lot more powerful.
JESS: I don't think they could have still gotten it, because it's “motherfucking artists”, which implies you fucked your mother. They can't use fuck in terms of a sexual act. You can say, “It’s fucking weird.” But you cannot say, “I'm gonna fuck you.” Yeah, the MPAA is strange.
KELLY: It's fucked.
JESS: It is fucked. And I believe in swearing, but if you don't need to do it, and your story still works, get rid of it.
JESS: And the performances were all good. Vanessa Hudgens as Mimi was wonderful, even though –
JESS: Maureen, Maureen. She has played Mimi before. With Aaron Tveit.
KELLY: She has.
JESS: Yeah. But Maureen, she was really great as. I love the woman that played Joanne, she was fantastic. The entire cast brought their A game. There's not a Matthew Morrison among them.
ANDREW: You have to take your shots, don't you?
JESS: I do. I will always take my shots. I will never have a career in theater because I'm taking so many shots.
ANDREW: He's not.
JESS: I’m too catty and crass.
KELLY: I mean, as somebody who loves – I mean, obviously, listen to me talk - loves Angel and Collins so much, I really loved - is it Brandon?
JESS: Brandon Victor Dixon.
KELLY: And I thought Valentina was okay.
JESS: It's a dress rehearsal, so I'm giving her a little bit of credit.
KELLY: Basically, yeah. I'm giving them a lot of credit. And also, they took the time to cast somebody, I believe, is gender fluid? Valentina is gender fluid, and I thought that that was very nice that they decided to do that. I'm trying to remember exactly what it was I didn't really like about it. But I mean, I thought that it was fine. And I also knew it was a dress rehearsal.
JESS: But one part almost made me cry, which no part of Rent has ever almost made me cry. But only this Fox production almost got me there, and it was during the Contact scene, which is a song I usually don't particularly love, but they just shot it so perfectly, and they made her look so pathetic and broken in a way that no other production of Rent really had the ability to – nor did the movie - have the balls to. So it was a really heartbreaking moment that was done very well.
KELLY: Yeah, yeah. I have feelings about that song. But I think that it's all worth it for that part with Angel.
JESS: Yes. I don't understand what it's meant to mean. Um, I think removing a bit of the blatant sexuality of it that the Fox live production did was a good move and just kind of focused on it being Angel dying was a really smart idea. And vocally, Brandon Victor Dixon is not the same vocal range as, say, Jesse L. Martin, but it works.
JESS: And same for Jordan Fisher. He doesn't sound identical to Anthony Rapp, but it works.
KELLY: Yeah, there's almost - I really enjoy the performance of Seasons of Love not because of Idina Menzel taking that solo for no reason, but because –
JESS: We all know her.
KELLY: I really enjoyed the fact that you saw them all with their counterparts, which is one thing that I just really - and there's this one moment where they're singing. It's where they do a little riff, the men's part riffs a little bit. Like, the “love” on Seasons of Love. And you can see Jordan Fisher next to Anthony Rapp and Jordan Fisher is doing this little finger gun thing. And then Anthony Rapp is just like, “Oh, yeah.” Like, you can tell like how much fun they're both having. And in that moment, I'm like, “Yeah, those are two different Marks.” And they both worked well, for what individually. And I think to me that just isolated why I really liked both of their Marks.
JESS: Can I ask a question to the group? What do you think Roger got up to in Santa Fe that caused him to break his foot for that last scene. Did he kick a helmet, like the guy from the Lord of the Rings did? We have to explain why he's suddenly in a cast in the final scene? Because that was the only live part of that Fox live production.
ANDREW: He was trying to tune his guitar, one of the strings broke.
JESS: Snapped his foot right off. That’s it. I love the part where Adam Pascal is just trying to cheer up Brandon, who's just like, “Man, I ruin everything.” He’s like, “Come on, sing the song.” Adam Pascal is a great guy, a real goofball. And they've just pegged him for a lot of roles. And people don't think he can step beyond it. But he can. I just wanted to say that.
KELLY: Yeah, yeah. I think he's -
JESS: Is he hashtag problematic? Did he do something again?
KELLY: Oh, we were just talking about the commentary.
JESS: Oh, yeah. He says some weird stuff in the commentary. Is it specifically about Rosario?
KELLY: Yeah. It’s specifically a little bit about Rosario, and then it's also a little bit about - like, everyone is always uncomfortable when talking about Angel. And that's just the thing.
KELLY: Because like, they were basically - it was him, Michael Grief, and Anthony Rapp doing the commentary.
JESS: Christopher Columbus.
KELLY: Oh, they’re the same person to me.
JESS: They basically are.
KELLY: And they basically were just making comments about –
ANDREW: Wait, what were they saying?
JESS: They were saying that, like, they were on the commentary, they kept talking about how hot Angel was and her legs and all that.
KELLY: Well, it was in a very transphobic way. Like, “Oh, like, that's actually like a guy,” and I'm like, “Please stop. Please stop talking.”
JESS: But it’s hard for me to hold the same standard to them in 2004, 2005 –
KELLY: Oh, yeah. In 2008 and 2000, yeah. 2005 versus 2020.
JESS: That was literally 15 years ago and I'm like, “Okay, grain of salt.” I've seen Adam Pascal support a bunch of trans organizations now, I know how he feels. Like, I have to go in with that. But still, it's shitty, I think well-intentioned. We got the gradient there, we get Anthony Rapp, woke as fuck, gets it. Adam Pascal, well-intentioned goofball trying his best to be funny but not really landing the joke anymore in 2020. And then Christopher Columbus who doesn't get anything. He made Home Alone and then coasted.
ANDREW: Didn't he make, like, I don't remember. He made some movies that are not good.
JESS: Oh, what are you talking about? He made a Pixels.
KELLY: He made Harry Potter.
JESS: He also made Pixels, though.
ANDREW: Didn't he name his production company like 14 something?
JESS: Yeah, 1492 or something crazy.
ANDREW: Yeah, whenever Columbus –
JESS: Oh, that’s so fucking – fuck you. Alright, we're done. We're done.
ANDREW: 1616? I don't remember. I don't remember what year Columbus landed. I don’t give a shit.
JESS: Let's talk about the Hope Mill production.
ANDREW: It's like two opposite types of sets they did - cus this one's claustrophobic whereas the other one’s wide open.
JESS: Well, this is post-COVID. They lived in a house together to put this on, no-touch production, it's - I love it. I love a lot about it. And I'm just gonna say – yeah, I'm a bad person. We weren't allowed to watch it. We VPN’d that shit.
KELLY: Yeah, yeah. The way I feel about it is they made kind of a commentary on COVID, slash I want to say it was intentional because there was a time where people didn't know how AIDS spread. And so, there were a lot of different - people thought it was like you touch somebody. I thought that that was an interesting - maybe a commentary on that as well? But basically, they never touch each other. Like, the cast basically throughout the show doesn't touch each other. And then in the times they touch each other are in really important moments. So, one of the things that they do that is very, I've never seen a done before, was they bring Angel back. For I’ll Cover You Reprise. In the time that that couple touches is when Angel is dead. And then Angel wraps their arms around Collins and I lost my mind. I just started sobbing uncontrollably. But I thought that was a very interesting choice. I liked that it was intimate. I liked that there were only four ensemble members. Again, it was into my other thing, but like, I thought that that was really cool. Roger sounds very similar to Adam Pascal. I can't get it out of my head. He's a very talented artist in his own right. And I'm very excited to see what he does. But yeah, I really enjoyed it. Their Angel is also non-binary. Alex goes by they/him. They/he pronouns. Also, super exciting - we're actually starting to cast non-binary people in roles. And so I thought that that was really exciting. But like, what did you think about it? Andrew?
JESS: I'm very curious.
ANDREW: You want me - I mean, I didn't not like it or anything. It's Rent. I have a very - I mean, I haven't gotten to talk about what I think of Rent. Now, I don't think it's as bad as I thought it was in that first podcast we did, I think it's middle of the road, we've seen much worse, I still think we've seen much better. There's definitely aspects of Rent that are very good. And I mean, representation is great. But I mean, as far as enjoyment of a show, that's not what I watch the show for necessarily. I'm not saying it's not a thing we should strive for. It is a thing we should strive for. But as an audience member, you know, I'm watching the show, a lot of times and this show, I think, is kind of a mess in the way it's made -
JESS: I think Act Two is where a lot of that comes to fruition, where Act One is pretty strong.
ANDREW: I think this particular production is very interesting, though, just because of the limitations that were on it. I kind of liked that there was less people to pay attention to. Simply because they were forced to do that. There wasn't an ability for them to have as many people in the ensemble. And it was a smaller space, which is something I haven't really seen done. I don't think I've ever seen a show - Actually, you know what, maybe that one show we did that was in one room.
JESS: The Room?
ANDREW: No, it was like a - Do you remember that? It was a tiny show that someone asked us to do. It was like an art project almost –
ANDREW: Institute_Institut, it kind of reminded me of that a little bit, because it was like, just stuck in this one little room. And it was it was kind of interesting to see. So, I kind of like this. I still think I enjoyed the Fox production more because I like those bigger type shows, like over the top.
JESS: I have some thoughts.
JESS: And I want to talk very briefly. This is where I realize a lot of my trouble with Rent comes down to staging and specific dialogue choices. And I think making it less literal was one of the most effective things. Like, as far as that original Broadway production, they're just on a stage and everything is literally happening. Like, he goes here, he does this. There's no dancing really. And if there is, it's in reaction to La Vie Bohème and to the thing that's going on. It is a very, “this is literally what's going on” show, whereas this version, there is so much more weird stagey elements. April is there when Roger sings One Song Glory, and therefore April becomes the representation of drugs. She is the one that sells Mimi the drugs after Happy New Years. Having those specific ensemble members to mean different things. If you're taking anything from Hamilton, take the idea of you got Ariana DeBose as the as The Bullet and that is what she represents throughout. Do that with Rent and it works beautifully. And I make these connections - maybe they're intentional, maybe they're not. There is a lot we could say there.
KELLY: Yeah, I think that the video design was really interesting. I really liked the video design. I really liked the fact that they didn't end with the video, they ended with all of them standing in a line, holding hands, which they kind of brought Angel back again. I'm not gonna lie, Angel and Collins are my favorite characters. So anytime you bring them back - Like, there was a cute little moment where Angel comes back and Angel - not sure if it's Alex, not sure if it's Angel - but they're standing there and they have this little come hither moment to Collins. And I was like, “Alright, well. I'm sold.” And it's just a very interesting way to resolve the show. I think that a lot of the cerebral moments – Like, one of the things I didn't get was the transition from Out Tonight to Another Day, because Roger never looks at Mimi, and I'm like, “Why? What's happening?” and Mimi just picks up his guitar and then suddenly, Roger can see her. That stuff was unclear, but I really liked it. Luke Sheppard, who directed it, also directed & Juliet, and also directed Spring Awakening, a very intimate performance in the same venue. So it was just a small, very intimate Spring Awakening, which was also - I enjoy, I do enjoy intimate shows. I think that with Rent, it's all about scale. And it's all about set design. I think that if it hadn't been all scaffolding, it wouldn't be as complicated. I think that you should be able to depend on your set and your lightings to help you a little bit with understanding the show. I'm working on something right now that combines the writing process and the designing process to see what you can and cannot kind of get away with. And I think that that's important for Rent - for the continuation of Rent - is that you're thinking about that. Especially having - the scale could not be more different of Rent: Live. And Hope Mill Theatre Rent could not be any –
ANDREW: It’s like opposites.
KELLY: It's so interesting. It is so interesting, and the advantages and the disadvantages of both. I love this musical. I love talking about it in the in the context of that. I love talking about the performances.
JESS: All right, we got to move on. We're 50 minutes in. One thing I want to say before we wrap this up, I really loved Out Tonight and how she was not stripping or going out stripping anymore and dancing. She is literally on heroin, tripping her mind out, and dancing because of the drugs. And that is a storytelling choice. And not just a, “Oh, we got a dancing girl and tight clothes.” Fucking brilliant. All right. That's it. All right. Now we got to go on to the part two of our favorite segment of the show. It's the time we compare our opinions to the opinions of the New York theater critics. It's Breeviews.
BRIANNA: So, the New York Times critic Ben Brantley says, “The subject of the work is death at an early age. And in one of the dark dramatic coincidences theater occasionally springs on us, its 35-year-old author died only weeks before its opening. Yet no one who attends Jonathan Larson's "Rent," the exhilarating, landmark rock opera at the New York Theater Workshop, is likely to mistake it for a wake.”
JESS: I think Ben Brantley’s got a point there. Like, it's really sad. And I'm very happy that they aren't framing it that way. Because a lot of people try to. And even Anthony Rapp is like, “It's nice to say people think this is his legacy. But no, he had so much more in him and it sucks that he's dead. Don't frame this as like some poetic justice.” And I think that's a great way to say it. Like, no. This is not poetic irony. This is just shitty.
KELLY: Mhm. I like that they say it’s not a wake. Cus it was meant to be a celebration.
JESS: Of course. And that does come across. Bree, continue. There's a lot more to go.
BRIANNA: Okay. “It should also be pointed out that Mr. Greif lets his cast come to the edge of the stage to serenade the audience entirely too often. He is also guilty of staging that obscures crucial plot elements. And he and his choreographer, Marlies Yearby, don't make the most of the varied possibilities of the score. Only the heady, intricately rhymed "Vie Boheme" banquet number, which concludes the first act, and the erotically staged death of Angel really match the inventive sweep of the music.”
JESS: And I agree with that. I feel like that's what we all just talked about is how the staging was dumb and a lot of it – Like, do you know how many people go to see Rent and don't know what the fuck the plot of Rent is?
BRIANNA: When I was in the sixth grade, I told my dad I wanted to see Rent. I really, really wanted to see Rent. And he was about to pick me up from my aunt, we were about to go see Rent, I was all dressed up, and then he pulls up and he's like, “I found out what Rent was about, so I'm not going to take you to see this.”
JESS: What a dick move. Fuck that guy.
BRIANNA: My family is so religious. So, they were like, “No, we're not gonna go see this.”
ANDREW: But Rent has angels in it. It's super religious.
JESS: Take your dad to see Angels in America next. That has angels in it.
KELLY: My mom bought me that album - My family is pretty religious too - my mom bought me that album and just didn't see - ignored the expletives warning and just bought the CD for me.
JESS: My parents were cool. My mom took me to see Rent three times.
ANDREW: She probably didn't even know it was about even after the third time watching it.
JESS: You know. You’ve heard my mom give cheese ratings.
ANDREW: Honestly, I was watching the Fox version. I was talking to Jess while I was watching it. And he was still explaining some of the plot elements that I wasn’t figuring out. I was like, “So why does the landlord like the guy so much?” And he's like, “Oh, well, he married some rich woman and bought the building.” And I was like, “Oh, is that in the musical?” And he's like, “I think so.”
JESS: They mention it. They do a better job explaining in Fox live.
ANDREW: They do do a better job. I did notice it. I was asking before they actually explained it when I asked, but that shows that I did not pick it up in the first couple times I watched it -
JESS: Well, neither did Chris Columbus. He even explained that in the commentary. He’s like, “I don't know what Benny’s plan was. That's why I moved You’ll See to be the second song so we can explain it very clearly.”
ANDREW: Honestly, the only thing that really gets me still about the plot is that Benny is so - He wants Maureen's protests thing to not happen so badly that he's offering them free rent. But then you see her protesting and it's like, it might as well be Yoko Ono just screaming into a microphone. It's like, “You're afraid of this?” Like, “This is the protest that you think is gonna rile everyone up?” And then later on, it does rile everyone up. I'm like, “How?” I don't know. It's not some rousing speech. It's like weird, artsy stuff. I don't know.
JESS: Plot-wise, it doesn't make sense. But when you go back to Jonathan Larson's previous versions and Maureen was this badass anarchist - like, Enjolras from Les Mis, and it makes sense that everyone's in love with her because she has these beliefs and shit and that’s why the relationships make sense too.
ANDREW: The plot is pretending that she still is that.
ANDREW: But then, she's not at all.
KELLY: Yeah, so instead it looks like performance art. For me, that's how I always interpreted it - is that it was a joke and it is performance art.
ANDREW: Well, it is performative art. It kind of is a joke.
KELLY: Like a performative kind of, like, “I understand your cause, but I'm not gonna do any protesting or be an anarchist about it.”
ANDREW: Yeah, and that would be a good thing to show because, I mean, if I’m picking this up right, a lot of these people are pretending to be kind of poor because they're from rich families and they're almost LARPing as poor people. Am I wrong about that?
KELLY: It’s Mark and Maureen. And Joanne is from a rich family and as a lawyer and went to Harvard? And then, really, it's Mimi - Specifically Mimi, Angel, Collins, and maybe Roger, who are actually in poverty.
ANDREW: Yeah. It makes sense that Mark and Maureen -
JESS: I'd say Collins probably isn't because he is still teaching and he was an NYU Professor. Or was it NYU? Or MIT?
KELLY: I feel like teachers don't make that much money.
JESS: A university professor does.
ANDREW: It makes sense that Mark and Maureen wouldn't put on a real protest because they don't really care that much –
KELLY: Or know how to.
ANDREW: Well, I mean, realistically, if you can just at any moment, if things go bad, you can just be like, “Mommy, I have to come home.” You know, then you're not going to stage a legitimate protest. But it also doesn't make sense that in the plot later on, it was a real protest. And it was actually so real that it started a riot. It's like, okay, so which one was it? Was it a fake protest performance art? Or was it riot inciting anarchists?
JESS: And these are good questions that will lead us into our mid-show announcement.
JESS: All right, we're not really going to talk about the songs. I know that's what we usually do here. Sorry, guys.
ANDREW: We've already talked about the songs –
JESS: We did an episode. And the purpose of this is to talk about shit we never talked about. So the last chunk of this podcast is going to be what to do with Rent now. I feel like now that 30ish years has passed, we're finally getting permission to really mess with the book of Rent, mess with the way that Rent was perform, do some weird, wacky shit with it. And I want to know, what would you do with your revival of Rent? And I am going to start with Andrew, because I want Kelly to think a little bit about hers.
ANDREW: All right -
KELLY: I have mine planned. Mine’s a book.
JESS: Oh shit. Kelly, throw to you. Andrew, you're last.
ANDREW: Oh, it’s already planned? Yeah, go ahead. I'll go last.
KELLY: This is like something that I actually do on the regular, which is I plan revivals. And I make a book out of it. I'm not kidding. I have one for Chinese Waitress. Chinese Waitress, think about it. It's great. All immigrant Thoroughly Modern Millie, it's great. I think that specifically Rent needs to be taken back by people who are BIPOC queer people. And I think also specifically, it should go to people who are still kind of from that era in terms of people who are affected by HIV and AIDS, because I think that that's where the show flourishes, is in those moments where you get to give those people that time to tell their story. And I think that there's a great podcast from Token Theatre Frieneds - plug – with Juan Michael - I'm gonna mess up their names. And I'm so sorry, but it's with - their names are Donja and Juan, and then with Jose, who hosts. And there is just a great discussion about new playwrights, new Black, gay, trans playwrights who are talking about things specifically like living with AIDS, and what that is like, or living with HIV. And I think that that is super important. So I would want those people to take over Rent, because I think that those are the people who need to kind of tell the story. I also really enjoy the empathetic storytelling of Rent. And so, I would probably do something similar to Rent: Live, except it would be more enclosed. And then it would be - the set design would be, you could yourself as an audience member walk through the set. And then I did this with another revival, where I think that Rent should be finished. I think that we should hire writers to finish Rent. I think that the great thing about having an immersive set design and the great thing about having an immersive concept for Rent, is that you can flesh out parts that were not talked about. You can watch Collins and Angel fall in love. You know, it's not just they meet and then you see Angel in drag the next day and -
JESS: Well, no, it's all one night.
KELLY: Yeah, but you get to see that arc. So, while, for example, Roger is singing One Song Glory and Mimi is knocking at the door and they're having their Light My Candle moment, you can see Collins and Angel in another room, and what they're doing and how fast that happened, and how they fell in love, and what they were doing at that moment. Even - and this is maybe controversial - maybe what Maureen and Joanne are doing, because I think that one of the heavy criticisms about Maureen as a character - which is totally valid - is that of the whole bi-storyline, and I think the way to fix that in context is to give her more stuff to do. I think that's how you fix that, is you turn her into a fleshed out character, you give her stuff to do. You give Joanne stuff to do. So it's like, maybe there's a reason why. And so, that is kind of simultaneously what - it's much more fleshed out than that. But idea-wise, that is what I think that my version of Rent would look like. And it would be two floors and you would have all of their apartments, and then you have scenes like Rent where they're all yelling, and you have the ensemble. And then you have things like the funeral scene, and it's like, being an audience member in that moment to me, would just be so powerful and so emotionally raw, and it's a different way of staging Rent. And I think that that's kind of ultimately, I think, kind of something that Jonathan Larson would have been game for. Talking about taking risks. Like that is something Broadway has never seen before. And so, I'm like pretty ready to do that. It is a physical set that I have planned out. This is no hypothetical. It's there. But that's kind of what I always pictured Rent to turn out to be. But yeah. Jess?
JESS: Oh god, I'm next. Rent is an unfinished work in and of itself. I love your idea of finishing it. I wouldn't know - No one has the same songwriting style as Jonathan Larson, as many people tried to, they took that ball and they ran with it and made a lot of rock musicals in the early 2000s, nobody sounds like Jonathan Larson. Even early Lin-Manuel Miranda work where he admits he's ripping off Jonathan Larson doesn't even really sound like Jonathan Larson. So that is a hard thing to do, even to consider. However, we are very lucky to have a lot of Jonathan Larson's demos and unfinished work that could very easily be co-opted into Rent. The one that's popping into my head is You'll Get Over It. Which is a by that time in the 90s, probably by the numbers homophobia, but right now is like “Oh my god, homophobia,” but it also paints Maureen’s agency and her own story, instead of being this flighty, ditzy, Trust Fund girl.
KELLY: Valentine's Day is also about Maureen, I believe. Which is another cut song.
JESS: Well, it became Take Me or Leave Me eventually, if I remember right. Because they both take place on Valentine's Day.
KELLY: Oh, okay. Well, okay. I thought Valentine's Day was sung by Mark.
JESS: I don't remember. All right. There's a lot of things you could do. And there's a lot of things I would cut. Like, Christmas Bells and the homeless thing, I think, either expand that or get rid of it. Like, there was a scene with the “motherfucking artists” line from the homeless woman, which seems so self-aware of what these characters are and what they're doing - performative activism. But that seems like the only time they point that out. So, it feels very confused what the message we’re supposed to take away from that is. It feels like they were very, what's the word? They were very ambitious with what they were trying to cover. But some things are very well fleshed-out, like the AIDS support groups and all that. I think those are beautiful scenes and beautiful ideas. And then the homelessness thing, like, they pop up, they say a joke, “Smile for Ted Koppel, Officer Crowley,” or whatever. It is a very weird work. And I feel like we need to take the razor blades to it and cut and paste shit to it. Like, really, from the ground up, tear this score - out of love. We need to really just blow this up a bit and bring in some new things. The person I would pick at this moment I can think of is probably like Daniel Fish who did the Oklahoma revival and did such insanity for that. I think he would be well in tune for the style of Rent and doing big swings and changing a bunch of things. I feel like you need a bunch of big swings, like something vastly different from Michael Greif’s original 90s production where everyone's just been like, “Oh, let's do that again. Let's do that again.” The person I guess I would get to re-orchestrate and maybe work with some of Larson's unwritten songs and maybe one is maybe Tom Kitt? I feel he's the closest we have to a Jonathan Larson? And even that is still far away from it.
KELLY: Yeah, I think Tom Kitt. Also, I mean, Tom Kitt did SpongeBob, right? Tom Kitt was the one who brought all those songs together.
JESS: Yes, and I feel like he’s game for something like that.
KJESS: He also did Jagged Little Pill, which also is of the generation and he understands that generation. So, if I were to pick anyone, bring him in to re-orchestrate it, bring a real ground-breaking director, maybe even Julie Taymor? She could do something fucking wacky with it. I'd love to see what she'd do. But make some broad swings, make it different. Don't treat the text as gospel. Andrew, what about you?
KELLY: That’s a big one.
ANDREW: All right, well, we got two serious answers. And honestly, I have no idea, so I'm just gonna goof around here. My least favorite part of the whole show is Mark - if we can just get rid of Mark somehow. Like, maybe we get him in the guillotine, just get rid of him. Mark gone. Get rid of Mark. More Collins and Angel. I actually do think that they're the best couple in the show. Give more time to them. Roger and Mimi are alright so we can keep them around, but let's switch the focus over to Collins and Angel. Get rid of Mark entirely. Maureen - let's turn her into a real anarchist and we'll have it be like Les Mis, there's a whole plot where she leads the revolution.
JESS: And you can still make her a song person. Like, a performance artist in the revolutionary way, not the exact crazy ditzy lady way.
ANDREW: Exactly, not like the screaming into the microphone and it makes no sense that she’s gonna lead anyone into anything.
JESS: Moo with me!
ANDREW: Yeah, moo with me. Who's mooing with her? No one is mooing with her. The audience is mooing with her.
JESS: Anytime anyone’s gone to see Rent, they’re mooing with her.
ANDREW: Yeah, a bunch of people in the audience moo with her and then no one goes out afterwards and riots. I mean, come on. So, the whole second act will be the revolution failing and Benny winning in the end. And all of the other stuff happens with that.
JESS: And Angel lives.
ANDREW: And that's it.
JESS: I think Angel should live.
ANDREW: We’ll switch it. Angel will live, Mimi dies.
JESS: I'm actually down for that. That actually sounds pretty good for me.
ANDREW: We'll switch it up. And Mark dies as well.
JESS: Mark dies at the opening scene.
KELLY: Opening scene is Mark's death.
ANDREW: “Camera’s on, I'm dead.” He'll give the camera directions for his own death scene.
JESS: (sings) December 24th, Nine PM, Eastern – Just Roger takes his guitar, beats him to death.
ANDREW: It’s like, “I'm so sick of you. Oh my god. Stop filming us.”
JESS: “You don’t know what I’m going through. I’m not just for you to make a movie out of. I'm a human with life and thought.”
ANDREW: “I’m a human, stopped filming me. Stop.”
JESS: “I’m not in your fishbowl existence, Mark.”
ANDREW: Okay, but on the real - Give it to somebody who actually knows what they're doing. Not me.
JESS: You know who definitely knows what they're doing? Our wonderful patrons. I can't even wait. Thank you guys for listening. Now I gotta ask y'all, what is your overall thoughts on Rent and your cheese rating? Kelly, go.
KELLY: I'm lactose intolerant.
JESS: Ooh, that’s sad. I am too, technically.
ANDREW: You don’t have to give it a cheese, then. You can you can give it something else.
JESS: A tofu. Three tofu seaweed salad. What's the Rent line about tofu?
KELLY: Did we allow a lactose intolerant person on our show, Jess? We said this would never happen.
JESS: I know, it’s my fault.
KELLY: Cheese rating: “Would eat the cheese, anyway.” That counts.
ANDREW: See, that’s a good cheese rating, because now it doesn't even matter what cheese it is. It's just like, “This is a personal sacrifice for me.”
KELLY: Yeah, I would die for this show. Would die.
JESS: Would die for this show.
JESS: All right, Andrew, what's your thoughts and your cheese rating?
ANDREW: Um -
KELLY: Updated cheese rating.
ANDREW: Yeah. It's uh, maybe it's the version I saw - I don't think so. I think I was too hard on it originally, honestly. We were trying to be funny for our three YouTube viewers at the time. We were not. We failed. We did fail. So, I think it's okay. Honestly, I like it. I like it better than Dear Evan Hansen and a lot of the modern rock shows. It's not really my favorite. The plot is kind of a mess at times, but there's some good stuff. Some of the songs go on a bit long. I still don't love La Vie Bohème, I think it goes on way too long. But there's other really good songs in it too, so. Out Tonight gets stuck in my head still. Um, I don't know. I’ll give it a Kraft Single because, you know, that's what poor people eat. Like me.
ANDREW: I’m not kidding. I literally just ate three slices of Kraft Singles when I was downstairs.
JESS: “That was my dinner.”
ANDREW: It was.
JESS: Bree, what do you think of our discussion? What's your cheese rating? You're muted for us by the way.
BRIANNA: I mute both in case. I don't know.
JESS: In case you fart or something, I got you.
BRIANNA: That's why I do it. But okay, so I really liked this format of you guys revisiting a musical. It was very nice to hear you reflect and I enjoyed it very much. So, I'm going to give you a cheese that I didn't like the first time, but I liked a little bit more the second time, which is goat cheese.
JESS: That's a great cheese rating.
ANDREW: Yeah, goat cheese - you have to get into goat cheese.
JESS: My thoughts on Rent? It's good. It's a lot better than I gave it credit for. I was just kind of repressing my “How did I used to like this?” side of me. And now I'm like, “Yeah, it is a stepping stone musical that needs work.” It probably, honestly, if Jonathan Larson was given the chance to work on it as much as he wanted to, we probably would have still been here with it winning the Pulitzer and all that. I still think all of that would have happened. I am gonna alter my beliefs back then. I think no matter what Rent was meant to be as important as it was, no matter what, it was gonna reach the destination it got to. It just could have been so much better when it got there. So my cheese rating is (sings) “To hand-crafted beers made in local breweries; To yoga, to yogurt, to rice and beans and cheese.” That's my cheese rating.
ANDREW: He did it.
JESS: I did it.
ANDREW: The man - He pulled it off.
JESS: I pulled it off. I did it. Oh, wait, hold on, wait.
ANDREW: Well, we were not catty and crass as much as we would have liked to be.
JESS: We would have loved to have been more catty and crass. But Kelly, you brought us to normality. Promote your shit. Tell people where they can find you.
KELLY: Oh my god, find me on Twitter and Instagram. With some version of Kelly Lin Hayes designs, I think. I'm doing a lot of virtual shows. One show is a gay heist play. And all of the roles are being filled by queer BIPOC actors, and it doesn't have a date because it's just a reading. But that's what you can follow me for.
JESS: And believe me, she will tweet angry subtweets about us if we ever do wrong again.
KELLY: I will.
ANDREW: Which we will.
JESS: Yeah, we will.
ANDREW: Probably in the next hour.
JESS: Yeah, probably. We're talking about The Prom, so we'll have a lot of bad things to say there.
KELLY: Oh, Bring me back for The Prom.
JESS: Oh, I love The Prom.
ANDREW: You’re gonna defend the Netflix show?
JESS: I literally was just on a podcast - I just did Token Theater Friends and I reviewed The Prom. So, go listen to that. And we talk about a lot of like commercialism and what was sacrificed and what was not. And James Corden. No, thank you.
JESS: Yes, thank you. Guys, get rid of him.
KELLY: But lesbians, so worth it. So worth it to me.
ANDREW: But James Corden, though -
JESS: James Corden -
JESS: Kelly, thank you for joining us. But that's all we got to say. We'll see you guys next time on Musicals with Cheese.
ANDREW: Jess is literally Mark in real life.
JESS: (sings) La vie bohème! Anyone out of the mainstream? Is anyone in the mainstream?
ANDREW: Jess, just pick up the job at Fox News. Get out of here.
Ben Brantley’s review of Rent: https://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/14/theater/theater-review-rock-opera-a-la-boheme-and-hair.html