GAYDAR: Five Reasons Why Rent Must Die

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1. Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp Have Nothing Better To Do
The main attraction of this particular production of RENT is original cast members Adam Pascal as AIDS-infected guitarist Roger Davis and Anthony Rapp as filmmaker Mark Cohen. For avid RENT fans, it’s a trip down memory lane. For everyone else, it’s men at work. Paschal and Rapp perform with grace and ease, no doubt inspiring the same sense of awe they did during RENT’s first production, perhaps even more so. Whatever. Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t help but think…

2. 1996 Just Called And They Want Their Hip Musical Back
The lighting, props and set design are nothing short of spectacular, if you like that kind of thing. As Davis explains in the beginning, he and his roommates share a warehouse loft in NYC, surviving on siphoned electricity from a neighboring tenement, a scrap paper filled fire barrel for heat, and wearing every shred of clothing they can scrounge up to abate the bitter of cold of a not-so-merry Christmas time. Every set structure—particularly the looming, tangled network of metal bars and wires that vaguely resembles a Christmas tree—is darkly intricate, and at times, aglow with scattered candlelight. So I will give it this much: As musicals go, this one is easy on the eyes. But the ears, not so much. Because…

3. It’s One Long Power Ballad
Of all the sins committed in the name RENT none is more odious than its popularization of the power ballad, which is a little like popularizing the Mullet. Typically, these are simple-scored songs of sweeping emotionality, where histrionics is often mistaken for catharsis. Needless to say, RENT is replete with this brand of tear-jerking, heartstring-yanking tripe, such to the extent that you find yourself wishing that you had brought a flask of bourbon (thank God I actually did) to numb the soul from all this strained melodrama. Not to mention the intermittent sing-talking.

4. It’s Not Nearly As Deep As It Thinks It Is
If there is one thing RENT prompts other than boisterous reprises from the departing audience, it’s a dialogue about HIV/AIDS. Part of what spurred RENT’s meteoric rise in popularity during the mid 90’s was it’s rep for fearlessly confronting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which had received scant attention at the time. Critics questioned whether it spread the gruesome truth about HIV/AIDS, or merely gathered a gaggle of gorgeous performers together to sing and dance their way around an “edgy” issue, exploiting the destitute for profits and fame. Either way, all these years later it seems harmless if stale at best, and at worst it seems dated, overwrought and verging on self-parody.

5. Only Old Hens From The ‘Burbs Still Think This Is Edgy
During the “On the Street” number, a bag lady, played by Gwen Stewart from the original cast, castigates Anthony for filming her in his ongoing documentary about homeless life, “My life is not for you to make a name for yourself on…[stop] trying to use me to kill [your] guilt.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself about the whole travesty of the thing called RENT: a two and a half hour long barrage of cloying, hookless power balladry that witlessly portrays HIV-positive, junkie, homeless artists as being perpetually hunky-dory, airbrushing away of the true horror of their circumstances so as to keep it matinee-friendly. As for its AIDS awareness advocacy, RENT is more exploitation than realization — it’s all take and no give. Enough, already. Make it stop. — AARON STELLA

RENT THE MUSICAL Runs Through Sunday At The Academy Of Music

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