Who To Root For At The Tonys In A Post-Hamilton World

Congrats everyone who decided to enter the Tonys this season and not last season – Hamilton will not be dominating the awards this year. But will another show take its place instead?

The 71st Annual Tony Awards nominations were announced yesterday, and coming out on top was Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 with 12 nominations. For those of you reading this that may not be Broadway fans per se, but more of a “Hamilton changed the way I look at musical theater” type of person, I’m guess you’re less likely to watch the Tonys this year because Ham won’t be as featured as it was in 2016. But let me tell you, there are still plenty of fantastic shows that are worthy of your support, both on Tonys day and in the theater year round. Here are just some of our top picks for who to root for, and who’ll dominate come June 11th.

Dear Evan Hansen

9 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (Ben Platt), Best Score (Oscar winners Benj Pasek & Justin Paul)

What it’s all about: “All his life, Evan Hansen has felt invisible. But when a tragic event shocks the community and thrusts him into the center of a rapidly evolving controversy, Evan is given the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to be somebody else.” {x}

Starring: Ben Platt, Laura Dreyfuss, Rachel Bay Jones

Why: Let’s just say it’s the Hamilton of 2017. Dear Evan Hansen has been winning acclaim ever since it premiered in D.C. back in 2015. When it was Off-Broadway, the show won five various awards, including an Obie for its star Ben Platt. Just for a second – we need to talk about TONY NOMINATED Ben Platt. The Pitch Perfect star may just be adding some hardware to his name come June because this is a freaking breakout role for him. If you haven’t yet, listen to the soundtrack, or at least listen to For Forever, which legit gave me goosebumps and made me cry in its 5 minute span. Another actor to look out for is Tony nominee Rachel Bay Jones, who plays Evan’s mom, a woman who just doesn’t know how to connect with her son. Her emotions pour out on So Big/So Small, and if you get to this point in the soundtrack/show without crying, this track will be the breaking point.

Speaking of which, the soundtrack debuted at number 8 on the Billboard chart, which is the highest debut by a cast recording since 1961. Hamilton didn’t even do that! It’s also worth noting that a number of notable Ham creatives are also behind DEH, including Alex Lacamoire (Music orchestrations and arrangements), David Korins (Scenic design) and Nevin Steinberg (Sound design). The first two also got nominated, but not Nevin because the Drama League is dumb and the category was taken out a couple years ago (but is being reinstated next year!). 

Come From Away

7 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score

What it’s all about: “Following the 9/11 attacks, 38 planes and 6,579 passengers were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, doubling the population of one small town on the edge of the world. Based on interviews with locals, Come From Away is about how hosting this international community of strangers spurred unexpected camaraderie in extraordinary circumstances.” {x}

Starring: Jenn Colella, Rodney Hicks, Kendra Kessebaum

Why: Making a 9/11 musical is toeing a fine line between tacky and offensive and honorable. But Come From Away has gotten positive reviews that lean towards the latter, and in fact suggest that this story is what needs to be told in this shitshow of horrific times. Peter Marks of The Washington Post even noted Come From Away “an antidote for what ails the American soul.” And while the actors may not be household names, the ensemble is a mix of both veterans and newbies, who are all worthy of a Tony, including Jenn Colella, who is up for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

Miss Saigon

2 nominations, Best REvival of a Musica, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

What it’s all about: “Set in 1975 during the final days of the of the Vietnam War, Miss Saigon is an epic love story about the relationship between Chris, an American GI and Kim, a young Vietnamese woman. They are separated when the country falls, until she returns to his life years later, in this musical inspired by the opera Madame Butterfly.” {x}

Starring: Eva Noblezada, Alistair Brammer, Jon Jon Briones, Rachelle Ann Go

Why: This 25th anniversary production earned rave reviews when it opened in London in 2014, and finally three years later, it has made its way across the pond with most of its original revival cast, including Eva Noblezada, who plays the lead of Kim and earned her very first Tony nom yesterday. It’s no easy feat playing a role that Filipino royalty Lea Salonga originated, but 21-year-old Eva made the role her own and is set to become a star much like Lea did years ago. In fact, like Lea was discovered at just 18 (this video will never get old), Eva was 17 when she performed at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, and a casting director pegged her to play Kim for the London revival. The rest is history. But it shouldn’t be a surprise – here’s a vid of Eva at 14 giving Sutton Foster a run for her money .

War Paint

4 nominations, including Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Patti LuPone & Christine Ebersole)

What it’s all about: “Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden defined beauty standards for the first half of the 20th Century. Brilliant innovators with humble roots, both were masters of self-invention who sacrificed everything to become the country’s first major female entrepreneurs. They were also fierce competitors, whose 50-year tug-of-war would give birth to an industry. From Fifth Avenue society to the halls of Congress, their remarkable rivalry was ruthless, relentless and legendary—pushing both women to build international empires in a world dominated by men.” {x}

Starring: Patti LuPone, Christine Ebersole

Why: Um, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole? Diva-off. 

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

12 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Direction 

What it’s all about: “Natasha is a beautiful ingénue visiting Moscow while she waits for her beloved fiancé Andrey to return from the war. In a moment of indiscretion, she is seduced by the dashing (but already married) Anatole and her position in society is ruined. Her only hope lies with Pierre, the lonely outsider whose love and compassion for Natasha may be the key to her redemption… and to the renewal of his own soul.” {x}

Starring: Denee Benton, Josh Groban

Why: I’ve heard nothing but great things about this show, and every clips I see makes me want to see it even more. The intimate setting, the creative blocking, the overall fanciful atmosphere might give it the edge over Dear Evan Hansen, which has long been considered a front runner for months.  Also worth noting – both its stars Denee and Josh Groban made their Broadway debuts with Natasha, and they’re both nominated for their first Tony awards. The girl from UnReal and Ally McBeal star Josh Groban could be Tony winners, y’all. 

Hello, Dolly!

10 nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actors (Bette Miller, David Hyde Pierce, Gavin Creel, Kate Baldwin)

What it’s all about: “A meddlesome matchmaker brings together the young clerk of a wealthy Yonkers merchant and his assistant with a widowed milliner and her assistant, while making sure she herself gets to marry the merchant, in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker.” {x}

Starring: Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce, Gavin Creel

Why: We are bad musical theater nerds. Molly only saw the movie of Hello, Dolly for the first time recently, while I have seen neither stage musical nor movie. What I do know is that other more well-educated theater nerds have been v excited for this revival, mainly because of the return of Bette herself to the Broad-way. An established show with revered actors is bound to get some love from the Tonys, and with 10 noms it’s clear someone’s gonna go home with that trophy. 

Falsettos

5 nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actors (Christian Boyle, Andrew Rannells, Brandon Uranowitz, Stephanie J. Block)

What it’s all about: William Finn and James Lapine’s musical combines their Off-Broadway works The March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, which tell the story of a gay man named Marvin, his lover Whizzer, Marvin’s wife Trina and their extended family from the early ‘80s through the early days of the AIDS crisis.

Starring: Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Stephanie J. Block, Brandon Uranowitz, Tracie Thoms

Why: The OG version of this show premiered nearly 25 years ago, but its themes of gay relationships and the AIDS crisis are still hot topics of conversation today. In addition to the fact the story itself is so relevant, the stellar cast tells the Falsettos tale in a whole new way, and it’s definitely one to watch out for on Tonys night.

Kevin Spacey

2 nominations, 1 win

What it’s all about: Kevin Spacey is hosting the Tonys for the first time. Kevin Spacey! It seemed like kind of a random choice but I’m here for it! #MaybeHeWillAdmitHisLoveForTheaterGoesBeyondJustTheToeTappingMusical

What ‘Cats’ Characters Are Probably Like, Based On Their Names

Can Jellicles? We’ll find out next week, when the Cats revival either winds Broadway up like a ball of yarn … or coughs up a big ‘ol hairball.

Cats is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical based on T.S. Eliot’s book about cat poems. Turn that sentence over in your head a bit. Theater-goers WENT IN FOR THIS. In the early 90s my mom took my three older siblings to Cats on Broadway and left me at home. The tales of the amazing theater experience convinced me that the stage was a place where anything can happen – I mean, Rum Tum Tugger himself stroked my brother (or something. I don’t exactly know because I wasn’t invited).  I exacted my revenge by making my siblings attend dozens of my plays and musicals over the following years, most of which were not good. The cast recording was a constant in our car and kitchen, and in first grade I could sing you verse after verse about the “heavyside layer,” which I don’t remember but was probably cat death? When I was 6 I finally saw the national touring company. In a bit of family lore, my father walked into the lobby during intermission with a bemused expression, shaking his head. “I don’t get it,” he said.

Now I’m a full-grown adult, and to be quite honest, I don’t get it either. My memories of actors Fosse-dancing while wearing giant carpet suits have faded into the mist just like the memories that one sad cat sang about. I remember snippets of songs and the feeling of something magical happening on stage, but I look at the list of characters and musical numbers and none of it makes sense to me. In the spirit of the new Cats production, here’s what the kitty characters are probably like, based on their weird names alone.

Mungojerrie

Okay, so this has to be a racist minstrel-y caricature from the 1930s,  yet also still a cat.

Rumpleteazer

You know how in really old movies they couldn’t say someone was gay so they’d use all these weird euphemisms instead? That.

Like, (and here you have to do a voice like you’re from an early talkie): “he’s a confirmed bachelor and a real rumpleteazer.”

Jennyanydots

Neighborhood snob thinks she’s cute.

Grizabella

Meth Gabriella.

Need further clarification? OK Take whatever Gabriella means to you:

Then make it meth:

Gus the Theatre Cat

This really old guy who hangs around a bar in the theater district and when people start talking about Hamilton, he chimes in with stories about, like, the original run of Company. Very into Sondheim. Sits with one foot propped up on his knee. Wears that one kind of hat. (I’m visualizing a cat Harold Prince.)

Mr. Mistoffelees

 

A pretentious college professor who wears jackets with suede patches on the elbows.

Rum Tum Tugger

Oh, goodness. Like a tubby booze uncle. And not the fun one, but the one where you’re just praying that no hot-button topics come up when he’s around because you know it’s going to be awful. Says stuff he knows you disagree with because he’s trying to start an argument, then keeps badgering you when you don’t react. A superfan of a failing NFL franchise, but all he does is complain about it.

Jellicle Cats

Sneaky assholes.

When I was a kid, my grandmother said she didn’t like cats because you could feel their bones squirming under their skin (which is also how I visualized myself as a scrawny, not-put-together child). That’s what jellicle cats are. You pick them up and their skin just slinks over their bones until they’ve wriggled out of your arms.

Bombalurina

That neighbor you had as a child who was Italian or Cuban, wore a housecoat, and her main things were obsessively sweeping her front steps and tending the marigolds around her Bathtub Madonna.

(Author’s note: describes roughly 10% of my childhood neighbors.)

Old Deuteronomy

The gruff, wizened old neighbor who was actually a cool writer in the 1960s and who teaches the protagonist, a teenaged white boy, about the world, the pen and himself.
Except the cat version of that.

Skimbleshanks

Eugene from Grease. Neville Longbottom. Samuel ‘Screech’ Powers. All those guys on Big Bang Theory. The geeks on Freaks and Geeks. Steve Urkel. Skimbleshanks.

Macavity

One of those lacrosse bros who has gone by his last name for so long that you can never remember what his first name was. (It’s Brent. Or Shane. Or Bryce.)

Quaxo

A third-tier sidekick who appears in one of the less-good chapters of Don Quixote or The Canterbury Tales or Pilgrim’s Progress, and then Jo March used it as a reference and you never understood it until you read the source book in college.

Bustopher

A cat rapper. Began his career as a kitten, when he was known as Lil Bustopher.

By the way, the characters’ full name in the musical is Bustopher Jones and his first album as an adult act was called The Bustopher Jones EP.

Jellylorum

False. This isn’t a name. It’s one of those weird, but non-fatal, things that can happen when a baby is brand new. “He’s mostly healthy, they just want to keep him in the hospital for the few days because he has jellylorum.”

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Best of Hams & Best of Ham4Hams

Welcome to #Hamilweek! The Tony Awards are this Sunday, and until then we’re going to write like we’re running out of time (sorry). Hamilton is one of the first hit musicals of the social media era. Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast realize that a majority of the fans can’t make it to the show, so they try their best to bring an up-close experience to their supporters through the magic of the internet. Case in point: Ham4Ham. Originally intended to give people who don’t win the ticket lotto a consolation prize, it has grown into a must-watch YouTube sensation. We could easily put every damn Ham4Ham on the list, but we tried to narrow it down a bit. Here are some of the best of Hams and best of Ham4Hams:

 

We Three Kings

Hamilton has been #blessed with three (now four) very talented men to play King George – Brian d’Arcy James, Jonathan Groff and Andrew Rannells. The great tragedy is that they never get to grace the stage at the same time. So it was invevitable that a Hamilfan suggested the three of them get together to sing The Schuyler Sisters. Request on Twitter and ye shall receive, so Lin organized this lip sync version featuring royalty. I love this because someone actually cut all the best angles together to create the best supercut. The fandom is great. – T

Star Techs

An amazing example of the behind-the-scenes coordination and dedication needed to produce a single number in the show. Ladies and gentlemen, I present stage manager Jason Bassett calling cues with the rhythm and timing of a star performer. -M

I Don’t Own Emotion, I Rent

For the 20th anniversary of Rent, we dedicated a week of posts to the revolutionary rock musical. Similarly, Lin sang What You Own with a very special guest (still not over this). -T

Patti LuP-owned It

Whenever I’m tempted to half-ass something from now on, I’m going to remember that Patti LuPone does the whole damn introduction to Give My Regards To Broadway that NOBODY DOES. -M

I’ma Compel Him To Include Women in the Sequel

First the Kings take over for the Schuyler Sisters, then the fierce women take over for A. Ham and the rest of the squad for My Shot. There was a rumor a while ago that the touring production was auditioning females for the male roles and vice versa – it proved to me false, but this video alone shows the ladies are more than ready to go. – T

THIS IS PAVEMENT YOU GUYS.

This is one of those Ham4Hams that has nothing to do with the show – not the performers, not the music, just members of the New York City ballet making my brain explode by performing on the sidewalk so beautifully that it made me want to cry. -M

WERK

For one day, the #Ham4Ham turned into #Bam4Ham, as the the cast took a field trip to Washington D.C. to perform for the president. Naturally, Lin took advantage of the setting and recorded three digital Ham4Hams, including this one, which again features the ladies of the show. I still get chills every time I watch it. Which is a lot. It’s a reminder that the story they’re telling at the Richard Rodgers stemmed from real events, not just made up characters for a Broadway show. That Hamilton and the rest of the founding fathers built this nation from the ground up, and these beautiful actors have the privilege of telling their story.  -T

Fun Ham

If you’ve read Chernow’s biography, or just engaged in some deep-Googling, you probably know that Alexander and Eliza had eight children. And if you’re a youngest or middle child, you won’t be surprised that everyone only talks about the oldest. The Fun Home kids bring the other Hamilton sibs to life and tell you a little about their accomplishments. Is Oscar Williams old enough to play Phillip when Anthony Ramos leaves (long may Anthony Ramos remain, though)? -M

Minamahal Kita

This Ham4Ham holds a special place in my heart because it was the video that informed me Lin’s longterm girlfriend in college was Filipino. And like the type of Filipino that taught her boyfriend conversational Tagalog. And that Lin is the type of person that would compose a song in Taglish (Tagalog and English) to mack on his girl. My brain exploded and all that came out were the emojis with heart eyes. Oh, also Queen of the Philippines Lea Salonga is in this too. -T

Heights4Ham

Chances are if you love Hamilton, you loved Lin’s first venture, In The Heights, as well … and this miniature ITH reunion was better than I even hoped for. Karen Olivo, everyone! -M

Funny Girl

Has anyone proven that Jasmine Cephas Jones ISN’T magic? At least a little bit?

Silky Strikes Again

Leslie Odom Jr. could me the McDonalds value menu and I’d be so enthralled by it that I’d buy every damn thing. But when you mix my fave track Wait For It with an emotional song like Stars from Les Mis – forget it. I am undone. -T

~*BFFLs*~

I love Jimmy Fallon. I love Lin-Manuel Miranda. They are both equally cinnamon rolls too precious for this world. So when they get together it’s sugar overload. What? Yes. Just watch. – T

If I Was A Schuyler

Tevye’s daughters from the Fiddler On The Roof (including Lin’s former intern!) make their best case for appearing as the Schuyler sisters. I’m sold. -M

Kyle Jean-Baptiste

Summer 2015: in addition to the diverse cast playing the founding fathers in Hamilton, Broadway had its first black Valjean in Kyle Jean-Baptiste. You could, and can, feel theater changing. This is bittersweet now: Kyle died tragically at just 21 years old, but thanks to this Ham4Ham we can still appreciate his talent.

Moo Point: Joanna Pacitti Was Robbed

Welcome to Moo Point, a series focusing on really old scandals, controversies and mysteries that are now so culturally irrelevant that our thoughts on them are moo. Like a cow’s opinion.


If you were a theater kid, you probably both loved and hated the kids in the Broadway cast of Annie. On one hand, those lucky kids were living their dream! On the other hand, those lucky kids were living YOUR dream. I was a hardcore child theater nerd – camps, acting classes, commercial auditions, headshots, even an educational video that I hope never surfaces – but I was nothing compared to the little pros in Annie. Although the Andrea McArdles, Aileen Quinns and Sarah Jessica Parkers get most of the Annie cred, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool millennial you probably connect the most with the 1997 Broadway Revival. And leapin’ lizards, you’re probably still ready to serve a knuckle sandwich to whoever booted tiny, talented Joanna Pacitti.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take it back … way back… to a show a surprising number of 10-year-olds were watching in 1997: Turning Point, a 20/20-type show on ABC. (In our defense, 20/20  did air right after TGIF, and how else were we supposed to learn that you can get scalped by a pool drain?) A Very Special Episode – advertised for what seemed like weeks – tracked the auditions and casting for the upcoming Broadway revival of Annie. You got to follow kids through open calls, callbacks, trying to act like they’re instantly bonded with Sandy, the crushing disappointment of rejection… and finally, the naming of a new Annie, Joanna Pacitti.  Even if you wanted to resent a kid whose acting career was going better than yours, you had to admit that Joanna was a great Annie. She had the tough kid act down, but could also play sweet. She looked like she was having fun. And her rendition of Tomorrow was note-perfect.

(Rewatching the above for the first time in 20 years, I remember how appalled I was at the kids’ acting ability as a child: most auditions I went out for required a more naturalistic approach, and the Annie auditions seemed to go more for girls who ACT like THIS, with some of their WORDS IN ALL CAPS!, like the spoken interlude in a Kidz Bop song. But the girls were just giving the producers what they were looking for, so hey, those gals could read a room.)

Before the show even went to the stage, Joanna became a national phenomenon.  She was on talk shows and was the talk of 5th grade classrooms everywhere. Her story became known across the country: just a regular Philly kid who got her start singing for tips at her father’s barber shop. As Annie took a roundabout route to Broadway via a national tour, Pacitti warmed hearts and gained positive reviews. In hindsight, the whole process of the 1997 Annie revival is weird: the laborious open call auditions, the reality TV-ification of casting (before “reality TV” existed as such), the national tour before the Broadway opening… it seemed almost like producers were trying to generate interest in the show that could have been accomplished by just, you know, opening a new production of Annie on Broadway. It was 1997. What were tourists going to take their 7-year-old daughters to, Rent?

Then, four weeks before the Broadway opening, the unthinkable happened. Well, unthinkable if you’re a girl who beat out thousands in a search for the new Annie: little Joanna got the ax. According to producers, the reason was concerns about Joanna’s acting ability and chemistry with Daddy Warbucks. In another statement, they said that after trying out understudies when Joanna got bronchitis, they just liked another kid better. The other kid, Brittny Kissinger, was the youngest Annie ever, a second grader carrying a Broadway show. Impressive stuff.

Still, I defer to my comment under the video – not a single one of those orphans were showing off their “acting ability.” They all did what my childhood acting teacher called “Barney acting,” shouting like an excited cheerleader hopped up on pixie sticks. Today’s viewers will know this acting style from countless Disney sitcoms. My point is, this production wasn’t going for realism in Annie’s performance, they were going for something between pep and moxie. It’s pretty hard to be bad at that, and I don’t think Joanna was. [Note: Joanna may have been a perfectly good, realistic actress in other contexts, but that doesn’t seem to be what the director wanted and that’s not what she gave him.]

What followed was a hubbub far greater than the initial casting announcement. Joanna was on Sally Jessy Raphael. She was an early guest on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, whose main platform was kids and musical theater (we both watched every day, yes). The story was in everything from Playbill to People. It even went back to Turning Point:

I mean, THIS is the girl that producers didn’t think was Annie enough to play Annie? She literally says “I’m not Annie no more.” What kid actually talks like that? Plucky orphans from the 1930s.

Then came the lawsuit. A flashy breach of contract case stirs my soul like musical theater auditions did when I was 10, so this part of the story is my jam. Joanna won a contest, and the prize of the contest was the role of Annie on Broadway. A lower court judge ruled that a Broadway role is “not comparable to other contest awards,” ergo specific performance can’t be ordered. But is there a breach? The third circuit court of appeals ruled that Pacitti had the right to have her case heard. Unfortunately for those of us who really want to know if this constitutes a breach, Macy’s settled.

As for Joanna? It’s all too tempting to say that the sun did come out. She starred in a regional production of Annie, which for a little kid is almost good enough. She still got to do what she loved. Joanna went on to pursue a pop career, and might have made a great American Idol contestant, except that the show’s legal team decided that she might have had too many ties in the entertainment industry – she was signed, at times, by both A&M and Geffen. According to her Twitter profile, these days Joanna is a singer and photographer. It comes as no surprise that the kid chosen to play resilient Annie is doing just fine after seeing the wrong side of show business – which, as they say, isn’t called show friends for a reason. My opinion may be moo by this point – the 1997 revival closed within months,  – but this 90s theater kid will always argue that Joanna Pacitti was robbed.

Playlist of the Month: Tiempos De Amor and More

Happy birthday, Rent! Jonathan Larson’s musical premiered 20 years ago today, and in that time Rent has transformed popular musical theater, changed lives, and traveled the world. It’s a testament to Jonathan Larson’s vision that this musical, set in the very specific time and place of Alphabet City in the late 80s-mid 90s, still resonates across the globe. Rent has now been performed on every continent except Antarctica (and maybe Antarctica too, if any of those research scientists are theater geeks). Today, rather than celebrating Rent’s 20th anniversary with the OBC renditions we’ve loved since we were way too young to understand them, we’re taking a look at how Rent has been adapted and translated to reach audiences worldwide.

Rent, Japan

After Rent debuted on Broadway, it quickly became a hit sensation. Producers decided to capitalize on its success by bring the musical to different cities around the world. A mere two years later, Rent opened in Japan, at the height of Rent-mania. Here we see truly contemporary scenes, including an Asian Joanne wearing fake dreads like her African-American counterpart, and it may or may not be cultural appropriation. I find it funny that Japanese words tend to be English words but just said differently, or when you just hear a rando English word like, “headline” news, “Trick-or-Treat” and of course “RENT!”

Fun fact: for a quick second at the beginning of the clip, you see an older gentleman with glasses – that is Al Larson, father of Jonathan Larson. To this day, he goes to as many Rent productions around the world as he can, acting as a representation for his late son and their family.

One Song Glory, Norway

I’d like to preface this by saying I’m still not sure if this is a high school production or not, but either way, this Roger isn’t exactly as strong as Adam Pascal. With all these international versions I find myself translating it into English and thinking I’m fluent in whatever language it’s in. Finna = Find in Norwegian!

Light My Candle, Greece

It’s clear that hundreds, maybe even thousands, of pretty women have gotten the chance to play Mimi Marquez, and in Greece, she was played by this gal, who I sincerely think is great and one of the better foreign singers I’ve heard so far. Words I understood: Papou (all thanks to Full House and the passing of Papouli).

Tango Maureen, Brasil

For the Tango Maureen, why would we look anyplace other than Latin America? (Okay, Argentina would have been ideal, but it sounds good in Portuguese). Language aside, Joanne seems so different in this production that it’s worth watching. Also, how is sunny, warm Brazil the only production to nail cold-weather clothing?

Out Tonight, Germany

*FYI the sound is really bad on this, so don’t put it on max vol!* Is it me or does Out Tonight just sound slightly aggressive in German?

I’ll Cover You, Korea

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t Angel and Collins being exactly the same, but Korean. Remember in The Simpsons where there’s alternate universe Maggie with the unibrow? That’s what it feels like. Equally adorable, in any language or continent.

La Vie Boheme, Spain

Including a Spanish production was a no-brainer, since that was my major in college and I spent almost 5 months in Madrid. But here’s a little secret: this song is like 50% people’s names and foods and you could translate this into English with a year of junior high Spanish. It still really, really works in Spanish though.

Seasons of Love, Cuba

Seasons of Love is already a beautiful song, but when it’s sung in a literal romantic language, it just makes it that more beautiful. And emotional. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Without You, Montreal

I don’t know about you all, but when I think heartbreak, I think French. You know how some songs sound just wrong in other languages – the meter or the generally feel is just off? Somehow, Rent sounds great in almost every language, but this one is especially nice in French.

Questions, Comments & Concerns: Rent

Like any successful project with a rabid fan base, there’s a desire, and maybe even more so now, an expectation for additional installments (see: all the Fast & Furious movies, Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls, Prison Break, for some reason). Same rang true for Rent. In the years following, a Rent movie had always been a topic of discussion and the OG cast members were always asked when a movie was going to happen. And nearly 10 years after Rent debuted in 1996, a big screen adaptation of the blockbuster musical finally premiered in the fall of 2005.

It was received with mixed reviews from fans and critics, so we decided to re-watch the film and get to the bottom of why it was loved by some and hated by others. Conclusion:

Question: Why isn’t Daphne Rubin-Vega in this again?

T: I could look up the politics of this again but I don’t remember why Daphne Rubin-Vega was replaced with Rosario Dawson? Because she’s too “old”? She’s “not hot enough”? They needed a “movie star”?

M: I was thinking about this while driving the other day (secondary theme of the week: we are not cool). I decided she was working on another project at the time, which may be a lie. (OK, looked it up: she was pregnant.) Either way, Mimi is harder than all of the other characters to play 10 years after the musical premiered, because it is the only one saddled with a very specific, very young age (19, looks 16). Which brings me to:

Concern: Everyone Is Old

M: I’m no spring chicken, so that’s not an insult. But all of the OBC actors are a decade older than they were when they were cast in the musical, and it is central to the plot that these are vibrant idealists in the prime of life. It still works, and I will gladly suspend disbelief to see this many original cast members reprise their breakout roles. But the characters read different when they look like urban professionals in their 30s. I can tell you that at almost 30, my response to almost every situation in Rent, were it to happen in my real life, would be “I am too damn old for this.”

T: And for me, what was weird that I thought some of them looked younger than I thought they were when I watched it a decade ago. So young-looking old people playing the role of 1990s “millennials” is what this film features.

Concern: December 24 … 1989?

M: This was controversial when the movie came out (controversial for those of us who are too invested in film adaptations of musicals, anyway). The musical was set in the present day (at first) and as time wore on, around the era when it was released: the mid-90s. 1989 was when Jonathan Larson began his work on it. I’m not sure why this decision was made. Is it because in 2005, it was hard to conceive of a 90s period piece? Or because 1989 feels more like peak AIDS crisis? Because Mimi would look adorable in 80s clothes?

Anyway. There are some scenes where it doesn’t really work – cyber cafes were SO 90s, and I feel like we didn’t start talking about the end of the millennium until the mid 90s – but I don’t mind it too much. I’m mostly amazed at how they created a gritty version of the New York of 1980s Sesame Street eps.

Comment: IMDb makes me smart

T: Fun fact: There are two v notable names listed as executive producers of this project: Robert De Niro (of Robert De Niro) and Jeffrey Seller, who produced small hits such as Avenue Q, In The Heights and Hamilton, a show we never talk about, ever.

Comment: Tune Up #1

T: I actually like how they turned Tune Up #1 into Mark’s speaking monologue so it doesn’t come off as too “musical-y” but for the Rent-heads out there, I’m sure you found it just as hard not singing along to it. This is a choice they make throughout the movie, and for the most part, I think it’s smart. But at times it just sounds like they’re doing some sort of sing-songy slam poetry.

M: Plus, it keeps the movie from being 3 hours long. Source: church is always longer when the priest sings all of the talk-y bits instead of speaking them.

Concern: I now identify with Benny more than anyone else.

M: Benny realized that he’s 28 (made up age), married Allison Hendrix Gray, and acknowledged that in America, at the end of the millennium, you gotta collect rent on the building you own that’s gonna be prime real estate in 15 years.  What happened to his heart? It’s the Bush I era and a man’s gotta make a buck.

But maybe I’m just saying that because Taye Diggs is a beautiful, beautiful man and he is KILLING IT in You’ll See.

T: I momentarily seethed when he started to speak the lines from You’ll See in fear we wouldn’t get to hear him sing the one song that’s his in the entire show.

Comment: Oh Benny

Benny rolls up to Alphabet City in his Range Rover and is immediately surrounded by protesting tenants angrily singing Rent to him. Rough start.

Comment: I love Angel.

M: Wilson Jermaine Heredia plays Angel with the perfect mix of humor, life, and too-good-to-be-true kindness. Angel/Collins is one of my favorite musical couples.

Comment: Can I get a light

T: I understand the point is that the power blows but it’s darker than How to Get Away With Murder up in here.

M: Like when we were watching Cheers, I had to adjust my set because half of the background is just black blobs with the occasional string of Christmas lights. Mimi says our eyes will adjust.

Comment: April looks like a young Poehler + Gillian Anderson

M: And everyone looks 200% more 80s in the flashbacks. Just how long ago was that supposed to be?

Concern: Did Rosario Dawson miss her musical calling?

How did Rent effect Rosario Dawson’s potential musical theater career?? JK.

Comment: Mimi’s junkie makeup is really effective.

M: That might sound like faint praise but I mean it – she looks strung out and feverish but not in a gross way?

Concern: I now identify with Mark more than anyone else.

Mark, talking about his parents’ laborious message on the answering machine: “There are times when we’re dirt broke, hungry, and freezing, and I ask myself, why the hell am I still living here? And then they call. And I remember.”

T: Same, Mark. Same.

Concern: When the characters are in their late 30s they just sound like people who talk too much about brunch.

M: E.g., Mark says to Collins “so that’s why you could afford to splurge on us” and  it sounds like nothing so much as two guys discussing who’s buying the mimosas this week.

Comment: Angel’s entrance

T: But can you just imagine meeting someone like for the first time like this? Comes in dancing and singing with a plastic pickle tub about killing a random woman’s dog? I’d be like WHO IS THIS PERSON

M: Is Angel on coke? Because that is not a normal human energy level. Also also, believe it or not, Angel in Rent is when I first learned about using the pronouns people choose for themselves, because it was 1996 and I was 9.

Comment: I truly love Tracie Thoms

T: I’m fine with not bringing back Fredi Walker – Tracie is a better match chemistry wise with Idina.

M: Yes. Fredi Walker isn’t at all matronly, but her Joanne was more staid and mature, which made Maureen seem even more like a attention-seeking kid.

Comment: Tango Maureen hotness

T: I’m v into Joanne serving business chic & Idina serving tango dancer hotness.

M: I love how the dialogue about how Mark vs Joanne learned to dance shows, in two lines, exactly what kind of upper middle class kid each was.

Comment: They nailed Joanne’s 80s businesswoman attire.

Jheri curl, wide short tie, suspenders, statement earrings. It works.

Comment: Mighty Ducks meets Gilmore

As mentioned the other day in our Dream Cast post, there are two people of note in Life Support – Wayne Wilcox (Marty from Gilmore Girls) and Aaron Lohr (D2 & D3: Mighty Ducks and Newsies), two people from your youth you definitely didn’t expect to be in the Rent movie.

Question: Are New York/Pittsburgh exotic dancer scenes different?

When I watched Flashdance for the first time, I learned stripping in Pittsburgh during the 80s involved Japanese Kabuki, and apparently exotic dancing in New York in the early ’90s

Question: Will I?

T: How many of y’alls tried getting your friends to sing Will I in a round like this be honest

M: Just another Friday night in high school with the theater kids, hanging out in a basement rec room singing about “will I lose my dignity.”

Comment: The homeless woman is the voice of all of us watching Rent after our idealist phase has ended.

“Hey artist? Got a dollar. Didn’t think so.”

Question: Anyone else wanna hand out hand sanitizer after Santa Fe?

Everyone’s hands are ALL OVER the subway railings. (I remember being on the subway with a drunk friend in college who insisted on doing weird flips like Collins, and I was like okay, I’ll be at the end of the car pretending something’s happening on my phone BYE)

Question: What is Computer Age Philosphy (Actual Reality)?

T: I truly have no idea.

Question: Why are these two the cutest?

M: I’m going to go ahead and call I’ll Cover You the most adorable duet in musical history … even if this relationship is moving crazy fast. If you’re Jesse L. Martin or Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and you meet someone as cute as you are, you don’t let that pass you by.

Collins: Are we a thing?

Angel: Darling… we’re everything!

Why did they take that line out?!?!

T: Fun fact: This version of I’ll Cover You used to be my ringtone. I was the coolest.

Concern: The Rent/Hamilton effect

T: Roger says “Look around!” and I immediately continued sing, “look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now!” Ah the irony of being obsessed with a musical which was in part influenced by the musical you’re watching.

Question: How does Maureen have this many fans

M: Yeah, but not counting the homeless, how many tickets weren’t comped?

Comment: This shot of Idina

Actually, no comment at all.

Question: What do you think the crowd at the performance space smells like?

M: Me, I think weed, cigarettes, those alternative deodorants that don’t work.

T: Clove cigarettes (to be specific), patchouli, burnt newspapers, shattered hopes & dreams.

Comment: Financial woes

I love how Angel proves they can pay for dinner this time by flashing him a folded bill

Question: How does Benny think he’s going to “break ground in mid-January”?

Shit’s frozen.

Comment: Viva La Vie Boheme

Just for once I’d like to act out this scene in a legit production. Not even the whole show, just this scene. They have fun.

M: Seconded.

LOL Mark’s solo dance – I’ve never related so much to him. Except all the other times.

M: OH LORD get me a gif of Mark in that moment and project it onto my tombstone.

Concern: I almost fast-forwarded through Seasons of Love because it’s too sad.

M: Lest you think a 20-year-old musical can’t move me anymore, I almost start crying at Seasons of Love. Goal: all 2+ hours of this, no tears.

T: I mean, fair. The line, “How do you figure a last year on earth?” like, stop it.

M: I’m also noticing that Seasons of Love is very obviously the song they included to be a breakout hit. Like, “okay, we need one song in a basic pop structure with no swearing or weird sex stuff in it so we can go on the Rosie show.”

Comment: All Angel all the time pls

After a night of celebrating New year’s Eve, the gang arrives back at their building only to find a padlock on the door. Angel swiftly grabs a trash can to knock it off, and after she triumphs, an equally inebriated Collins asks, “You gonna put that trash can back?” and a definitely not drunk Angel replies, “No”. The best delivery.

Comment: I FORGOT SARAH SILVERMAN IS IN THIS

M: I forgot both that she was in it and that she was SO GOOD as a cold businessperson.

Concern: For Mark’s overall wellbeing

T: Proposing (to your girlfriend) in front of your ex(boyfriend) is a ballsy move, Maureen. I just can’t get over how much I am Mark.

M: Me too. I am Mark in the same ways that I am Chandler.

Question: Exactly how long have Maureen and Joanne been together?

M: Because Collins didn’t know Mark and Maureen had broken up, and Joanne and Mark just met, but apparently Maureen and Joanne are engaged.

T: U-Hauls, amirite?

Comment: Maureen’s kind of a bitch

“Every single day I walk down the street. I hear people say ‘Baby’ so sweet… There will always be women in rubber.” Maureen… calm down.

Comment: Benny and Mimi

T: I still don’t get how characteristically, Benny would want to date Mimi? He seems super pretentious ever since he moved out of Alphabet City, and looks down on everyone who lives there.

Concern: Without You is a lot more graphic in the film adaptation

M: We are treated to Mimi’s delirium tremens (I think?), the ever-shrinking support group, Angel’s scary looking fever, hospitalization, drug buying, strip clubs, all that. I’m just going to go ahead and say I can never tell when people are supposed to be sick from drugs stuff vs AIDS stuff. Anyway. Without You is like the opposite of those montages of people having wacky fun and falling in love.

Question: Will I be able to make it through the I’ll Cover You Reprise without crying?

Comment: No. And ugly crying at that.

M: At least Traci cried vs me, who just fast-forwarded through the whole funeral. I know I said I am a Chandler, but I have a strong Joey Tribbiani “book in the freezer” mentality for stuff I don’t want to see.

T: Like Hannah Horvath, I am a glutton for pain. We’re just a blog about comparing ourselves to fictional characters now.

Comment: I am Mark reason #1094

T: Mark says, “Come on guys chill” during Goodbye Love when everyone is fighting. Excuse me while I go find a vintage videocamera and start documenting my friends’ terrible love lives.

Question: You know what I miss?

Using yuppie as an insult. (NB, I am technically a yuppie now? )

Question: How many times do you think Anthony Rapp & Adam Pascal have had to sing What You Own in their lifetime?

Approx a million.

Comment: I am Mark reason #1095

“Dive into work, drive the other way.” Me too, Mark. Me too.

Concern: Everytime I hear the phone ring i have a Pavlov dog’s response to getting up to answer the landline

Comment: Your Eyes

You Eyes, a mediocre song at best, is not a song Roger should be singing to Mimi on her “deathbed”. Like I know this scene is sad and everyhting, but this song would not be the last one I’d want to hear. ever

Question: What disease is Mimi having?

Is this AIDS? Hypothermia? Drug overdose? Picturesque yet vague musical theater malady?

Comment: I reflexively sing all of the lines in my head that they’re speaking here.

e.g., I rewired the ATM at the food emporium to provide an honorarium to anyone with the code.

Question:You know what I didn’t account for during rent week?

T: Literally ALL THE TIMES THAT SHE CRIED

America, At The End Of The Millennium: Rent As A 90s Period Piece

Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking 1996 musical Rent takes place over approximately 525,600 minutes – but which 525, 600 minutes were they? The stage musical is silent on the year. The movie is set in 1989. But if you found a person who was reasonably well-versed in recent history and pop culture (except that they know nothing about Rent) and had them watch the musical, they’d probably come up with some year between 1993 and 1998.

Yes, Rent is a dated musical, and I mean that in only the most complimentary way. Jonathan Larson set out to make a contemporary musical – his generation’s Hair. He wrote, in 2016 musical theater terms, how Alexander Hamilton did, how Lin-Manuel Miranda does. Larson wrote like he was running out of time. He didn’t know it, but he was: Jonathan Larson died on January 25, 1996. It was the morning before Rent’s first Off Broadway preview. Alterations were made before the Broadway premiere on April 29, 1996, but only using Larson’s words. Therefore, we have a very clear stop-point in the chronology of Rent. Even if it is staged in the “present day,” Rent was written without knowledge of any events taking place after January 25, 1996.

Still, the amazing thing about Rent in the 90s was how modern it was – modern in a way no other musical was. Rent addressed technology, AIDS, trans* identity, sexual orientation, drug use and gentrification. In contrast, look at the other top-grossing Broadway shows of 1996: The Phantom Of The Opera, Beauty and the Beast, Show Boat, Les Miserables, Sunset Boulevard. Your grandma would have liked them – in fact, your grandma could have liked some of them in her youth. Cats was still in the midst of its epic run. The next-edgiest show was probably Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk, and it didn’t even bring in THAT much funk. (I kid, we love tap.)

So for the earlier part of Rent’s run, Rent was set in the present – even if Jonathan Larson’s present didn’t extend past early 1996. For example, costume designers constantly trawled hip neighborhoods to make sure their cool young characters looked up to date. For years, the libretto held up to a modern interpretation. Cyber cafes, check. Urban drug boom, check. End of the millennium, answering machines, pay phones: check, check and check.

Then, one by one, the references from Jonathan Larson’s book became dated. It’s a bit like when somebody you love dies. First you find yourself writing out checks using a year they never saw, then you’re singing along to songs they didn’t live to hear. One day you look at a photo of them and they don’t look like somebody from the present day anymore: their clothes and hair mark them as a member of the past. So it was with Rent. By 2000, the theme of “America at the end of the millennium” was obsolete (OK, 2001 if we’re being real pedantic about it). Nobody really used the word cyber anymore, and anyway, we didn’t have special Internet places like Benny’s cyber arts space. The answering machine – plot device of so many great 80s and 90s works – was a thing of the past. These people have a land line? What are they, millionaires? To that end, Joanne’s cell phone no longer marked her as an upwardly-mobile, always-connected lawyer. HIV and AIDS are still prevalent, and still more common in communities with a high rate of intravenous drug use, but mercifully, AIDS doesn’t wipe out whole friend groups in the way it did in the 80s and early 90s. And although we voted for a platform of hope in 2008, a lot of the unbounded, youthful optimism of Rent died, at least for a while, after 2001.

By the time Rent was adapted for film in 2005, it was very obviously not modern. Even if you cut out the end of the millennium spiel, you couldn’t slap low-rise jeans and trucker hats on everybody and call it 2005. Jonathan Larson succeeded; he created a musical that defined his time so well that only 5 to 10 years after its release, you could already pinpoint in which era it must have been written. The filmmakers had to choose when to set Rent, and they chose 1989. There’s plenty to recommend 1989. That’s the year Jonathan Larson came up with the early concept for Rent. The AIDS crisis was at its peak. The Tompkins Square Park riot was just the year before.

The movie works – 1989 works – but I still say there’s a little more evidence that the original musical was intended to take place in the 90s. Through years of revisions, Larson incorporated references that wouldn’t have existed in 1989. Cyberarts seems 90s – cyber as a prefix didn’t really take off until that decade. As far as millennia go, 1989 is pretty close to the end of one, but the “end of the millennium” talk gained more traction in the 90s (that’s when we weren’t self-referentially explaining “it’s the 90s.”) Even the relationship that served as Larson’s inspiration for Maureen and Mark didn’t occur until the 90s (although it could as well have happened in the 80s). Most stage productions seem to have taken the 90s concept and run with it. I looked up a few school productions, bright-eyed teenagers done up in 1996 cosplay, imagining a year before they were even born. It’s how we must have looked on 80s day during spirit week in high school in the early 2000s. The teachers must have hated us.

Whichever year you want to place Rent in, it seems pretty clear that it’s somewhere between 1989, when Jonathan Larson’s idea took root, and 1996, when he died. In a play that tells us that there is no future, and there is no past, Rent takes place right now: but it takes place in Jonathan Larson’s right now, and for the last 20 years, for a few hours, we get to live there, too.

No Shame Playing The Fame Game: A Rent Dream Cast

When Rent was originally developed off-Broadway in 1995, the cast was comprised of both newbies and veteran actors, but the one thing they all had in common was talent. Adam Pascal, much like Roger, was an aspiring rocker when he stumbled across the audition for Rent. He had never really done musical theater before – in fact, the blocking for One Song Glory in which he goes back and forth from a table was designed specifically so he could look at pages of the script to rememeber his lines. Meanwhile, his co-star Anthony Rapp had already made his Broadway debut 15 years prior to taking the Nederlander stage.

And over the past two decades, casting for Rent in productions around the world have followed the same formula. You get a handful of “Adams” (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pals Karen Olivo and Leslie Odom Jr.) and “Anthonys” (Neil Patrick Harris, Mel B, Joey Fatone).

With all this talent floating around for the past 20 years, I got to thinking what a production would look like if I put the best of the best together in one dream cast. Let me tell you it’s harder than it seems, just because so many people have come and gone in these iconic roles over the past two decades. I will say that I tried to not use OBC members since they’re lit’rally on a different level (I mean, just look at these bbs at the ’96 Tony Awards), so here are some of my faves who have been to Alphabet City and were the best to tell the epic story of Rent.

Skyler Astin as Mark Cohen and Aaron Tveit as Roger Davis

Every year, the folks at the Hollywood Bowl pick a musical to present for one weekend in the summer, and it’s usually a star-studded affair. They’ve done Hairspray, Spamalot, and this year they’re doing A Chorus Line, but in 2010, Neil Patrick Harris (who played Mark in a ’97 national tour) was put in charge as the director of Rent. And he managed to get a super talented cast on board – Wayne Brady (Collins), Vanessa Hudgens (Mimi), Nicole Scherzinger (Maureen), and Gwen Stewart, who reprised her role from the OBC as the soloist in Seasons of Love. But the real highlight was a pre-Pitch Perfect and post-Next to Normal Aaron Tveit as Mark and Roger, respectively. This duo alone made me immediately purchase a ticket (again, one of the eight times I’ve seen Rent). Both Aaron and Skyler are amazing singers and Broadway vets, so commanding an audience of 17,000 in an outdoor amphitheater is no small feat, but both got the job done and done well. They were perfectly cast and also had good chemistry between themselves, which bodes well as the core of the Rent family. I think I passed out during What You Own.

Renee Elise Goldsberry as Mimi Márquez

Before she was looking for a mind at work, Renee Elise Goldsberry was looking for a light and her stash of heroin in Rent. The goddesss that we all know and love from Hamilton was the last person to play Mimi on Broadway when it closed in 2008. Renee played her version of Mimi as sexy, cool, and vulnerable all at the same time, and of course had the pipes to back it up. I also managed to see the final Broadway run (2 of 8, #humblebrag) and when I stage doored the cast, I legit have a picture that’s currently up on Facebook of a pic of Renee posing for a picture *with someone else that’s not me* and the caption reads, “renee … something or other. she played mimi. she was also on one life to live.” Oh 2008 Traci. Little did you know.

Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins

Ok, here’s one of two exceptions I made with the OBC. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing as good a job as Jesse L. Martin did with Collins. Few have come close, but I don’t think anyone’s been able to capture the same heart and sorrow Jesse conveyed as Collins. And separately, Jesse is a fantastic actor, while also an astounding singer, and no where else does this come through the best than when he sings the I’ll Cover You reprise. There hasn’t been a time I’ve watched him sing this where I haven’t cried.

Justin Johnson as Angel Dumott Schunard

Justin was Renee’s co-star in the final Broadway cast, and akin to Jesse, it’s hard to live up to the OG cast, especially following Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who took home a Tony for playing Angel. But there was something about Justin in this role that *gave Angel new wings*. I remember thinking he made the role feel fresh, and exciting again. After 12 years, there have been Angels who copy Wilson, and Angels who take it too far, but Justin was jussttt right. He also had outstanding chemistry with his Collins, played by Michael McElroy, who might come up again later.

Annaleigh Ashford as Maureen Johnson

Honestly, if you don’t like Annaleigh Ashford don’t talk to me. This girl is amazing in everything she does, frankly it’s annoying. From Wicked to Kinky Boots to Masters of Sex, she manages to bring humor and heart to every role. If Idina can’t be Maureen, I want Annaleigh to be Maureen in everything. This role is so perfect for her, I almost can’t even watch it.

Tracie Thoms as Joanne Jefferson

Tracie had been auditioning for Rent for eight years before booking the role of Joanne in the movie – she was a legit Renthead that proved dreams could come true. And not only did she appear on the big screen as Maureen’s love interest, she reprised her role in the final Broadway cast in 2008 and in 2010 for the Hollywood Bowl. And with all due respect to Fredi Walker Browne, I always pictured Joanne more like Tracie, which is why I think she’s the perfect person to play opposite a young firecracker like Maureen. True story: I met Tracie Thoms after the Broadway show and told her we had the same name. She feigned amusement. I hung my head in shame and my friend took this super zoomed in pic of us:

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lolololol

Leslie Odom Jr. as Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III

Like his Hamilton co-star Renee, Leslie also had a role in Rent prior to heading off to duel A. Ham, in fact, Rent was his Broadway debut. He grew up singing in church and musicals weren’t even in vocabulary until Rent. He graduated from high school and had spent the summer auditioning when he got the called to play Paul in the ensemble. He was 17. Now at 34, I’m pretty sure he can pull off a pretty convincing “villain” in Benny. I think he’s had some practice.

Ensemble

  • Michael McElroy as Mr. Jefferson / Pastor

As previously mentioned, Michael was the last person to play Collins on Broadway and I was :thisclose: to choosing him for Collins, but bumped him in favor of my boy Jesse instead. Again, his chemistry with Justin was infectioous and his voice is so so dreamy.

  • Gwen Stewart as Mrs. Jefferson / Woman with bags / “Seasons of Love” soloist

Also as previously mentioned, Gwen was in the OBC, so why not ruin a good thing?

  • Wayne Wilcox as Gordon / The Man / Mr. Grey

Wayne played Gordon in the movie but you know why he looks familiar to you? Because he played Marty, Rory’s sometimes naked, unrequited love interested from Gilmore Girls.

  • Telly Leung as Paul

Telly was in the final Broadway cast in the ensemble and also played Angel in the Hollywood Bowl cast and he is just delightful.

  • Emma Hunton as Alexi Darling / Mrs. Davis

Emma played Maureen in the 2011 Off-Broadway revival, and you obviously have to have an impressive set of pipes for that role. She’s also been in Spring Awakening, Next to Normal and in the little role Elphaba in the Wicked tour.

  • Aaron Lohr Steve / Squeegee man / Waiter

Aaron played the same role, and in a seat next to Wayne Wilcox in the movie, and again, if he looks familiar to you, you’re a child of the ’90s because he was Mush in Newsies and in D2 and D3: The Mighty Ducks as Dean Portman.

  • Eden Espinosa as Mrs. Cohen

Eden took on the role of Maureen in the final Broadway cast with some others mentioned above. And it seems to be some kind of trend because like Emma and Idina – she also is best known for playing Elphie both on Broadway and on tour for Wicked.

I Should Tell You: Things From Rent I Didn’t Understand As A Tween

Welcome to EVERYTHING IS RENT Week – a celebration of the 20th anniversary of one of our favorite musicals, and a beloved show by millions around the world. We’re kicking it off with confessions, of sorts. Let’s back it up a bit. Rent opened on Broadway on April 29th, 1996. We were 9 and 10 years old at the time. Rent mania was at its peak in the years following, and since we’re both cut from the same musical theatre/Patti LuPone cloth, we became fans of the show in our tween/teen years.

And if you’ve seen Rent or are familiar with the music, you know it would probably be rated M for Mature Audiences, or at least get a TV-14 rating. Naturally, there were some plot points, lyrics, and insights we didn’t get at the time, but now as adults (and older than most of the main characters in the show), we obviously have a different perspective on life and understand Rent much, much better than before. Here are some of the light bulb moments we’ve had in the past 20 or so years, and hopefully we’re not the only ones who were a little late to the game. Get at us, fellow millennials!

Everything about Contact

T: I believe I was 13 when I saw Rent for the first time (full disclosure, I’ve seen it 8 times in total), and true story – I went with my church youth group. I didn’t go to a super progressive church, however I did go to a United Church of Christ, which used rainbows in all their logos for a while because they were pro-equality and stuff. Anyways, it was a group outing sans parents, and it was a majority of my friends and like two of our cool youth group leaders. However, when it came time for Contact, a scene which simulates sex, I was uncomfy to the max. I looked down at my program, attempted to stare at other non-condom looking pieces on the stage, but I mostly just blocked it out of my first Rent experience. I even skipped over the song when I listened to the soundtrack (I know, #prude). It took me a while before I could listen to it for what it actually was, and why it held importance to the story as a whole. Stay safe out there, kids.

M: Oh, I skipped over Contact EVERY TIME. Probably still would. We played a lot of cast albums around my house when I was a kid, and I think it was an unspoken understanding that we didn’t listen to that one. But am I wrong in thinking that the staging was kind of weird, and so was the song and, awkward tween moments aside, it’s the least catchy number on the OBC album? My inner Catholic School 11-year-old suspects that I am not.

Mimi was a stripper

T: So this probably seems obvious to most people, but Mimi Marquez (Daphne Rubin-Vega) was a stripper. For some reason, I thought she was just a straight up prostitute/hooker/lady of the night. Maybe it was the provocative clothes and the fact she was on the hunt for her dropped baggie of heroin in Light My Candle? IDK. I mean it doesn’t even really make sense, seeing as how I knew all the lyrics by heart:

Do you go to the Cat Scratch Club?
That’s where I work, I dance
Yes!
They used to tie you up
It’s a living
I didn’t recognize you without the handcuffs

I also thought he meant she got arrested a lot – because she was a prostitute.

HOLD UP WAS LIGHT MY CANDLE ALSO MIMI TRYING TO GET A LIGHT SO SHE COULD HEAT UP HER HEROIN???? HONESTLY I’M HAVING AN A-HA MOMENT RIGHT NOW IS THIS REAL CAN SOMEONE CONFIRM THIS? THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATIOn

M: I grew up next to one drug house and across the street from another, so yeah, that part wasn’t lost on me. (This is where our urban vs suburban upbringing really shines. In our musical theater analysis. Because whether from the streets or the culs de sac, we’re both mostly theater nerds.)

All About Akita

T:  I have a tendency to listen more to music and composition over lyrics a lot of times, which I personally find annoying. So when I first saw Today 4 U being performed, all I could focus on was this guy dancing in heels way better than I ever could. Listening back to it, I always thought it was just a fun song to dance to. But then I got woke and paid attention to the lyrics and it was an eye-opening moment to realize Angel had killed a dog for money.

A few things about this:

  • A rando woman (imagine Jacqueline Vorhees on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S1) rolls up to Angel in her limo and is all, ‘Dahling, be a dear, kill my neighbor’s dog for me because it’s too yippy and loud. But kill it using your talent as a plastic tub drummer, you know how you make a living. kthxbyeee’.
  • How would you agree to do this?? You’re broke and offered $1,000 yeah ok that makes sense.
  • But then you tell this story with glee to people you’ve just met?
  • Again, Jacqueline Vorhees wannabe was certain his drumming would make the dog kill itself: “I believe if you play nonstop that pup/Will breathe its very last high strung breath/I’m certain that cur will bark itself to death”
  • And then it did by jumping out the window of an apartment building.
  • Didn’t realize the phrase “Today for you, tomorrow for me” basically meant to pay it forward, and someone will help you when you need it the most.

Seasons of Love

T: By the end of 8th grade, I was fully obsessed with Rent. So much so that I managed to convince our music teacher to let us sing Seasons of Love at graduation. I consider this one of my greatest accomplishments, despite the fact it touches upon death. And it’s from a musical which features sexy, drugs, and death from AIDS. And I don’t think I fully realized that at the time. I don’t think my 60ish other classmates did either. You’re welcome class of 2000 from my Catholic middle school.

*PS: Please note pre-Hamilton Renee Elise Goldsberry in the video above, and also note the tears that will project from your eyeballs.

Learning La Vie Boheme

T: When I first listened to the soundtrack, I didn’t get about 80% of the references in La Vie Boheme. I could sing the entire thing back to you but there were so many pop culture references in the song that Amy Sherman-Palladino would be left exhausted. But, like ASP’s work, I had to look up and research all the words and names I didn’t recognize and TBH, Rent is the reason why I know who people like Akira Kurosawa or Vaclav Havel are. Art is educational, y’all.

PS: Still reeling from my Light My Candle revelation, TBH.

M: See, there was no tumblr in 1996, so young people had to list the stuff they were into in song, instead.

Nobody Pays Their Rent

M: I rewatched Rent this past Christmas, after the unexpected death of a too-young family member a week before. I fast-forwarded through all of the parts about, y’know, death and dying. HEY. Did you know when you take out the AIDS and tragedy, Rent is just a piece about financial irresponsibility????

When I was 9-14 years old, I was very “YES. You ride that bike midday past the 3-piece suits. Follow your heart. Follow your ART.” And at 29, these people annoy me. Get a job – it doesn’t need to be a traditional one, but thief and grifter aren’t jobs – and pay your rent. And stop being shitty to your middle class parents who probably sacrificed their dreams so you could squat in a loft avoiding their calls.

Bad Tippers At The Life Cafe

M: In real life, just about everyone I know who is, or once was, struggling to make ends meet is also a very good tipper. Running out on your bill? Way to stick it to the artsy bohemian cafe and the waiter who makes less than minimum wage because you’re supposed to tip him. I guess it just bothers me because they’re not even screwing over “the man.”

One Song Glory > Your Eyes

M: Roger’s song about writing a song: so good. The actual song Roger writes: so very, very cheesy. Is the takeaway that Roger isn’t a very good songwriter? Or is the rhyming dictionary entry for “eyes” set to music actually a great song, and I just don’t realize it?

Falling Quickly

M: In sixth grade, it didn’t occur to me that Jack and Rose’s epic romance was actually a few days of pre-dating infatuation. At the same age, I also missed that the whole first act of Rent is just Christmas, pretty much. Which means that Angel and Collins go from zero to I’ll Cover you real, real fast. Of course there’s more immediacy when best cast scenario you’re about to get evicted and worse case scenario, you have AIDS, but for some reason I thought everyone knew each other longer.

 

The Pros and Cons of BroadwayCon

If you’re a true theatre nerd, you know that over the weekend, hundreds of Broadway geeks converged at the Hilton Midtown Hotel for the first ever BroadwayCon – which is exactly what it sounds like. Like other fan-centered conventions, this one gathers fans with actors, creators, and behind-the-scenes folk who make Broadway Broadway. Co-founded by Anthony Rapp, of Rent fame, BroadwayCon featured panels from past shows such as the Rent 20th anniversary reunion, current shows like Hamilton, Spring Awakening and Fun Home, to future shows like Waitress, Tuck Everlasting and Disaster! The Musical. There were photobooth and autograph sessions, fan meetups, master classes, dance workshops and of course, plenty of singing.

Before we go any further, I’d like to make it clear that I was not actually there. I am merely a spectator from the World Wide Web. I saw rumblings of #BroadwayCon on Twitter a while ago, and just thought it was some small event in NYC, but I was wrong. After tracking it online all weekend, I’ve come to this conclusion about BroadwayCon – it seems like a mix of pure ecstasy but also the worst nightmare all in one. A whole room full of theatre geeks!!!! But also, a whole room full of theatre geeks :\ Again, before the haters start to hate, I wasn’t there, so I obviously am not an expert on this, it’s all from what I’ve seen on social media. So in saying there, here are so of what I can tell were the pros and cons of the inaugural BroadwayCon.

Pro: The only convention with an opening number

I’ve never been to Comic-Con or any huge convention except for the ATX TV Festival, which is more of a medium sized gathering of TV fans than an exhibition hall filled with thousands of people. But none of these cons have a song and dance opening number. So was I surprised to see that BroadwayCon opened with this? No. My reaction was OF COURSE. I mean, is there any other way to kick off a weekend of Broadway than this?

Con: #TryingTooHard

We get it, all of us are Hamilton fans, you don’t have to flaunt the “secret language” around.

Pro: The Room Where It Happens

Like any other HamiltonHead (is there even an official name for Hamilton fans? I’m sure there is. Kids under 21, get at me), this panel with most of the main cast was the most anticipated one at the con. Here are some highlights during the panel:

If you could change roles with anybody in the show, who would it be?

Daveed: Angelica
Lin: Lafayette
Renee: Aaron Burr
Philippa: Hercules Mulligan
Chris: Jonathan Groff, he’s onstage for five minutes!
Groffsauce: Angelica
Oak: Angelica
Leslie: Eliza
Lin: I think we have our next Ham4Ham.

How Leslie was approached to join the show:

“I got an email from Lin about two-and-a-half years ago, I guess. The subject was ‘Octoburrfest,’ a delicious pun.”

Lin is a rap teacher who gives pop quizzes daily

“At 15 minutes to curtain, Miranda can be seen trotting his iPod from dressing room to dressing room with his speakers blaring a beat challenging his castmates to cypher at his request.”

Freestyle Love Surpreme

During the panel, the moderator asked if anyone besides Lin, Chris Jackson and Daveed had ever rapped before, but the closed-captioning typist accidentally transcribed “have you ever raped before”. It was quickly changed, but Lin managed to incorporate it in his impromptu freestyle:

Werk

The panel ended with a singalong of The Schuyler Sisters, with the cast happily watching the fans from the stage. It was their rock star moment.

Pro: Your obscure Broadway cosplay will be appreciated

Theater nerds, especially actors, will take up any chance for dressing up and what better place to show off your Fun Home costume that you wore for Halloween that no one got than BroadwayCon? The cosplay at BroadwayCon obviously appeals to a v niche group of fans, which is kind of why I love it.

Pro: And It’s Beginning ToAnd It’s Beginning ToAnd It’s Beginning to Snow

It’s been 20 years since Rent had its debut, and Anthony Rapp gathered as many friends from the OBC and creative team as he could for the “10,514,880 Minutes: How Do You Measure 20 Years of Rent?” panel, including Daphne Rubin Vega (Mimi), Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel) and Fredi  Walker-Browne (Joanne). I watched the first bit of this live on Periscope and teared up a bit just thinking about how much of an impact the show has made on me, but all the other RentHeads and the cast and crew themselves. One emotional moment was when Daphne FaceTimed with Jesse L. Martin (Collins) and there was even a mini reunion between him and Wilson :emoji with heart eyes:

Con: The Wrath of Jonas

As you may have heard, or seen out your window, Winter Storm Jonas hit the East Coast hard over the weekend, with all the Broadway shows even canceling their Saturday performances. This led to the actors/guests scheduled to appear at BroadwayCon to also cancel their appearances, which I imagine is a bummer for those looking forward to attending the Hamilton dance workshop or the conversation with Fiddler’s Sheldon Harnick.

Pro: #BlizzardCon

On Saturday, everyone at the con was pretty much snowed in, so it turned into #BlizzardCon. It ended up being a huge blizzard party in the mainstage, complete with random phone calls with Broadway icons. Among the folks who called in but not limited to:

Literally a picture of Patti LuPone in the comfort of her (surprisingly rustic?) palace, while she talks to the hundreds of peasants at BroadwayCon:

Pro: Broadway Stars Singing Rando Songs

Unlike a ComicCon where actors show up and screen clips or previews of their upcoming films or TV shows, Broadway stars can actually perform and entertain in front of you. Live! There was a fair share of concerts throughout the weekend, including a “Jukebox” in which fans could vote on which songs the stars could sing, and there was also this mad lib situation in which you get to hear Anthony Rapp sing *a slightly different version* of What You Own.

Con: Fans Singing Rando Songs

Ok, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good singalong. I think it would be especially fun if it was from a Broadway show, something like this:

But then there’s the contingent of people, I imagine at BroadwayCon, who are getting up to sing as if it’s an audition. One of the things i dread at events like these are A) stupid comments/questions from the audience and general second hand embarrassment. If I was at this fan karaoke event, I would be anxious every time someone got on the stage, hoping they’d be good, on key and not hamming it up too much. Too stressful. This girl sounds pretty good though!

Con: Like Sutton Foster, BroadwayCon is Younger

Based on what I’ve seen, in looks like the demographic for BroadwayCon are teens in high school and musical theatre majors in college. These are the folks who are excited about seeing the people they’ve been listening to on repeat, seen from the rear mezz, met briefly at the Broadway Flea Market and made fan art for on Tumblr. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, because I was like this as a teen, but as an almost 30 year old, I just can’t. The idea of being around that much energy 24/7 seems exhausting, and I’d just feel out of place. Recapping on my blog from the comfort of my bed 3,000 miles away is just fine by me.

Pro: There’s A Place For Us

In saying that, I think that BroadwayCon itself has been an event a long time coming. I always thought that being a theatre kid meant not being popular or not in the zeitgeist. I certainly didn’t feel like a cool kid at the theatre table during lunch in high school. But when I found out Comic Con was a huge thing for comic book nerds, I saw a whole bunch of different people gather for something I wasn’t particularly interested in, but acknowledged that something portrayed as geeky kind of seemed cool. Now, seeing photos and videos of #BroadwayCon make me think it’s so crazy that people are just as (probably much more) insane about Broadway than I am. These are the nerds who I sat with in the cafeteria. And those teens and MTs need something like this event, where you can connect, learn, and grow a deeper passion for Broadway and the arts in general. So keep up the great work, I can’t wait til next year – I’ll be here trolling the Internet like an old lady.