How Does the Musical RENT Remain to be a Favorite After All These Years?

Words by: Danelle Go

Hard to believe that it’s been more than 20 years since our lives became measured in love thanks to the hit musical Rent. This Broadway classic hit the stage back in 1996 and still continues to impact today’s lovers and dreamers. Though it’s been a while since the musical first made its mark halfway across the world, youth here in the Philippines still remain captivated by mastermind Jonathan Larson’s classic rock musical.

Early in April, Ateneo Blue Repertory, the production group of Ateneo de Manila University, launched their company’s production of Rent and brought their own magic to the beloved musical. With an amazingly talented cast (whose voices magically captured the essence of the songs), and a crew that went the extra mile to transport the audience to the Rent era, the production was a sold-out hit, not only amongst Ateneans, but also amongst fans of the musical.

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04blueREP Rent 1Photo from Ateneo Blue Repertory

But what exactly is it about this musical that makes it timeless and a classic? How does it continue to inspire Broadway today? Well, after continuously replaying the songs and watching Ateneo bring Rent to life, I think it comes down to these key aspects that have allowed Rent to become the cultural phenomenon that it continues to be:

Plot and Theme

Rent follows the story of eight main characters, some of whom are HIV positive and part of the LGBTQ+ community. In the span of a year, this group of friends navigate the struggles of poverty, death, sex, career, love, and all other things that are results of life. It involves societal issues like poverty, the HIV epidemic, and gay life, mirroring the era in which the musical was written. The fact that writer Jonathan Larson also drew from his own life and experience living in New York in the 1990s made the story more realistic and relatable.

Though the story has some problematic elements and is imperfect from some angles, I still love it because at its core, Rent is about love and hope. Each of the characters had dreams and hopes for themselves. Despite the problems they were experiencing, they continued to strive for these dreams and were motivated by the love extended by partners and friends. The captivating plot and timeless theme contribute to the overall success of the musical.

Music and Lyrics

The key to any good musical is in its music and lyrics. What I think makes Rent so unique is that there seems to be a greater focus of the lyrics and how the actors sing them. The detailed and well-written lyrics are able to capture the key themes of the story and communicate the thoughts of each character.

Meanwhile, the music is something I find very unique and distinct about the musical. Instead of relying on several instruments and overlaying a lot of notes and compositions, Larson chose to rely on the vocals and harmonizing of voices. Lots of songs are sung wherein characters will be singing different lines on top of each other (listen to Christmas Bells) or they’ll sing the same lines but in different keys (my favorite is What You Own).

The perfect song that I think combines these technique is the song “Will I?” In the setting of a support group meeting, the people continuously sing one lyric over and over again (listen to find out!!) and it just sounds so beautiful. This technique gives the songs so much depth and is so symbolic, which is one of the reasons I can’t stop listening to it.

04blueREP Rent posterAteneo Blue Repertory’s Rent poster
Poster credits: Dana Lee

Over the years, so many musicals have come and gone, each leaving some sort of impact on industries and culture. Hopefully, with the help of fans and production companies both local and abroad, Rent will continue to do so. More people deserve to witness the beauty of this musical and how it can change lives. After all, there’s no day but today so might as well dedicate it to a life of love.

Are you a fan of Rent, too? What’s your favorite number from the musical?