RENTheads sang songs from their favorite musical at Life Café on Friday evening.
Fans pay RENT loving respect after historic run
By Lincoln Anderson
As a sendoff to the legions of devoted fans of RENT, the hugely successful Broadway rock opera that closed on Sunday, Life Café hosted a joyous farewell bash last Friday evening.
There was an open bar and free hors doeuvres, Capn Crunch a familiar prop for RENT aficionados frequent spontaneous breaking into stirring song and dedication of a bench to the musicals beloved creator, Jonathan Larson.
RENTheads gave heartfelt testimonials about how the East Village-based musical which opened on Broadway in 1996 had changed their lives. The bench for Larson was dedicated at the spot where he often sat in the cafe at 10th St. and Avenue B, while working on the shows book and music and observing the neighborhood, its life and its people.
Throughout the evening, fans wide, ecstatic smiles on their faces belted out their favorite musical numbers.
Fifty hardcore fans were selected for the event based on two-minute videotapes in which they expressed their love for the show.
I moved to New York to be closer to RENT, and now its closing, said Damien Leggett, 30, of Brooklyn, who had seen the musical 119 times as of last Friday night. The Alphabet City song-filled story helped him shed more than 100 pounds, he said.
He said RENT s simple but powerful message was: That people can leave the past behind. Dont worry about the future just prepare for today and accept what life gives you and be happy.
Leggett always saw the show from the first two rows, participating in the daily $20 ticket lottery a RENT innovation in which 34 tickets would be raffled off two hours before the show. If he didnt win one of these choice seats, he wouldnt go.
Seeing the spit come out of the actors mouths, isnt that incredible? Thats how close you are, said Theresa Piliero, 34, of Southbury, Conn., another devotee of the seating lottery.
Piliero has an entire wall in her basement dedicated to RENT. On it are hung the shows original costume drawings which she bought on e-Bay.
Five hundred dollars. It was well worth it, she said.
Only a true RENThead can understand the depth of these superfans feelings, she explained to a guest at the party.
Do you remember when Angel died? Piliero asked. Ive never seen anything portrayed in such a beautiful way. That vision of seeing Angel rise and go to heaven. It touched my heart.
Jenny Byrd, 26, of Indianapolis, sang of her devotion to RENT, changing the lyrics of the musicals song Take Me or Leave Me, winning an enthusiastic round of applause and cheers from the RENThead faithful.
The movie version of RENT was playing on a TV above the bar, while on top of it were boxes of Capn Crunch cereal, which is sprinkled out of a buildings windows in one scene in the musical.
Red, flashing heart pins adorned fans chests, a symbol of the Marfan Foundation and of Marfan syndrome, the heart ailment believed to be what killed Larson the night before the show opened Off-Broadway. He was 35.
Jonathan Larsons father, Al Larson, and older sister, Julie Larson, joined in the emotional festivities. Julie, 51, said managing Jonathans estate has become their full-time job. Asked how large the estate is, she just said, Big.
I think RENT will continue, she said. Theres a big tour now, and schools are lining up to do RENT now.
Its the seventh-longest-running show ever on Broadway. Jonathan was just hoping for six weeks Off-Broadway.
Jonathans been huge in Asia. Tick, Tick
. BOOM! [another Larson show], opened in three different theaters in South Korea on one night.
Asked if the character of Mark, from Scarsdale, in the musical was based on her brother, who grew up in White Plains, Julie said yes, though adding, Theres definitely parts of Jonathan in all the characters. Larson actually lived on the West Side, on Greenwich St.
Ultimately, the play is simply an updated, East Village version of La Bohème, she said.
Kathy Kirkland, Life Cafés founder and owner, said it became clear after their menus started disappearing and business increased in June when the shows closing was announced, that the cafe had to do something. She decided to create the RENThead Registers bound, black books in which fans can write their memories and feelings, which will be ongoing. The cafe is also selling RENT T-shirts for $20, tote bags for $10 and buttons for $2 or $3. It wasnt about being commercial, she said, noting it just seemed to be something the fans wanted. A portion of proceeds will go to the Marfan Foundation.
Now that the musical has closed on Broadway, Life Café will continue to be the mecca of a pilgrimage for RENTs fans, she said.
In my mind, when they were singing La Vie Bohéme, sitting at that table, the last supper it was there, Kirkland said, nodding toward the corner with Larsons memorial bench.
Though she doesnt remember Larson writing RENT in her restaurant, shes sure she must have seen him.
In the 80s, this was a place to get out of the whirlwind of the craziness that was going on in the streets, she said. One day, I looked at everyone sitting in here writing, and I said to myself, I wonder what Pulitzer Prize winner is writing a novel and Im sure he was one of them.