The reason for my trip to Toronto was simple: to see Rent. My friend and I travelled over 2500 kilometres to see a musical; one we’d seen before (me three times, her twice). It may seem silly to plan a short vacation over one event. To that I say pshaw.
Let me take you back to when I was 13 or 14. The year was 1996 or possibly 1997. My mom had on the Rosie O’Donnell Show. Instead hearing the typical nonsense I normally did, I heard a glorious song. The original Broadway cast of Rent was singing Seasons Of Love and I cried. I knew nothing about this musical, but there was so much emotion and power in this song, in the lyrics and music, in the voices that carried it out, that it stayed with me. I knew that I had to see this show.
Eventually I got the chance to see a touring production when I was 15. After that I was hooked. Despite living through completely different circumstances than the characters in the show Rent spoke to me in a way no other musical has. I’d come home from school and listen to my Rent CD over and over. A few years later a tour came down to Calgary. I convinced some friends to go with me, and they loved it. We went again when it came back to Calgary a few years later. We also saw the movie version, and the filmed version of the final Broadway show.
Rent closed on Broadway in September 2008, and so I thought my chance to see another professional show of Rent on stage was over, but soon I got news that Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp who originated the roles of Mark and Roger on Broadway would reprise their roles for one last tour. Aside from building a time machine and going back to when the show opened, this would be the closest experience to seeing the original production. Not to mention the awesome bonus of having Gwen Stewart (ensemble and amazing Seasons Of Love soloist) who was in the original Broadway production. As well as three actors from the final Broadway show; Michael McElroy (Collins), Justin Johnston (Angel) and Shaun Earl (ensemble). As a self-proclaimed Renthead this was epic.
The only Canadian stop one this tour was Toronto. So my friend and I bought tickets for the show, booked a flight and hotel and took a few days off from work. Our plane landed on Tuesday, and the next night we were making our way to The Cannon Theatre. We had front row seats on the balcony. They were fantastic. My friend and I were in complete fangirl mode, super excited, chatting about everything Rent related we could think of – except during the show of course (I’m not rude). I was beside myself with excitement. When the show began it was like seeing it for the first time. Everything was perfect. I felt the power of the music, the honesty of the lyrics and the message of life and death that Rent gives to its audience.
During the show I also reflected on the ironic tragedy that surrounded Rent. That its creator Jonathan Larson worked for years creating music and lyrics for this show, a modern-day retelling of La Bohème, only to die unexpectedly at the age of 35 after the show’s opening preview. Rent went on to critical and commercial acclaim, winning awards and accolades. But it always saddens me to think the man behind it all never got to see firsthand how his show would affect so many people, like myself. The theme of living life to fullest, no matter what circumstance you’re in, has always stayed with me.
The evening was perfect, and we decided to try our luck and go to the stage door for autographs. I was really hoping to meet the original three cast members, and I did. They signed my CD and lyrics booklet. The line was really long, but I was able to tell the cast, in coherently formed sentences, that I was a fan of the show and that I thought Rent was amazing. My trip to Toronto for Rent was a huge success.
You may think this is the end of my crazy Rent post, but you’re wrong. See my friend and I found also out they were holding a lottery. The lottery originated back when the show first started in New York, and it gave people a random chance to win two $20 front row tickets to the show. Broadway musicals can be expensive, most tickets are $90 or more, so this was a way of giving people who may not have been able to afford tickets, a chance to see the show. For myself it was more than just the possibility of winning. This was an opportunity to be a true Renthead, to say I stood in the cold with other fans for the lottery was enough of a reason to go. It was like being a part of some grand community. It was easy to strike up a conversation with your neighbor, we all shared a common interest.
We didn’t win, but we had the chance to buy $30 tickets. Our seats were higher on the balcony, but we had no complaints. As the great magnet works in mysterious ways, the woman we were talking to in line was sitting right behind us in the theatre. She told us about moving to Toronto just because of the theatre it had, we talked about flying out just for Rent. Then she asked if we were going to stand in the lottery line for tomorrows matinée.
It would be our last day in Toronto, our flight left in the evening, but the matinée was the last chance we’d get to try for the lottery; so we went for it. Once again we found ourselves outside the Cannon Theatre with the other Rentheads – many familiar faces were from the night before. The group up front were singing songs from the show and thanking Jonathan Larson. I secretly hoped one of them would win. We chatted with people behind us, swapping Rent stories, sharing our love for the show. One guy also traveled from Calgary to see the show. We wished each other luck and went in to write our names on the paper for the lottery.
The usher came to announce the winners. Everyone cheered and clapped when each name was called. Someone from the singing group was called, then one of the people behind us. I was already excited they had won and then I heard my friend’s name. It didn’t register at first, because they didn’t pronounce it correctly. But then it sunk in, we won the lottery. The best lottery I could have hoped to win. We screamed and jumped up and down, the ushers inside were taken back by our enthusiasm. Soon we had the wristbands with word Rent written in blue felt on the outside.
It all felt surreal, like a wonderful dream. Everything that was awesome about the show was magnified by a million during that front row performance. I got to see little details in the props and stage that I never noticed. The acting was always amazing, but this time I could see facial expressions, the way certain songs were sung. I took a mental note of everything I could, writing it in my journal on the plane ride home. My trip to see Rent once, turned into a trip to see Rent three times, and in a way I never imagined.
This trip for Rent is something I’ll never forget. I get giddy when I flip through the program at home. If I’m having a bad day I think to myself ‘I won the lottery, I was there’ and it instantly makes me feel better. Now when I listen to the songs I’m transported back to the Cannon Theatre. Rent is a show that has stayed with me, and changed my life for the better. Thank you Jonathan Larson.