Two nights ago, we went with friends to see the 20th anniversary tour of one of my favorite musicals of all time: Rent.
Rent is an imperfect play. Its creator died before the first preview of the off-Broadway production so the version we see today would most likely not be the final version of the show had it been edited and cleaned up during previews. The first act is 30 minutes too long, many of the rhymes are first-drafty, and some of the plot can be hard to follow. But alas. Jonathon Larson’s words have been immortalized because of his unexpected, premature death. And if that doesn’t speak to one of the show’s many recurring themes, living as if this moment is your last, I don’t know what does.
I understand why people don’t like Rent. But this show has always spoken to me on many levels, from its reminder to live in the present and love freely, to its characters struggling with writer’s block and forging a family of friends. It was the show that made me realize my deep love for musicals, and is one of my desert island soundtracks because there’s a song for every emotion. I love it so much I got part of it inked into my skin.
When I first listened to the original cast recording of Hamilton last year, it hit me with an intensity that no show had since I first heard Rent. I listened to it twice that night; five hours of powerful storytelling, memorable characters, and music unlike anything I’d heard on the stage before. The more I listen to the songs, analyzing the lyrics in depth, learning about the history that inspired the story, I fall more in love with it. And I think one of the reasons Hamilton resonates so deeply with me is because of the similarities it shares with Rent.
- Both shows use the same set for the entire production, using props and lighting to create scenes, asking the audience to use their imagination more than a traditional musical does.
- Both shows use a mix of musical stylings, including many popular genres of the day (Rent: 90s alt rock, pop, even some Gospel in there; Hamilton: hip hop, R&B, Elton John-style pop)
- Both shows feature incredibly flawed, yet relatable, characters, including villains who you can empathize with.
- Both shows are based on other stories (Rent is based on Puccini’s La Boheme, while Hamilton is based on, well, the life of Alexander Hamilton).
- Both shows are entirely sung-through, as a rock or hip hop opera. (Hip hopera?)
- Both shows employ fire and eye lyrical motifs.
- Both shows feature diverse casting (and, with the exception of a few characters, could cast any ethnicity in the roles).
- Both shows are considered revolutionary and influential, redefining what a modern musical can look and sound like.
- Both shows address creativity and writing, from being creatively blocked to writing non-stop, and searching for the legacy you leave behind (whether it’s a song, a film, your love for people, your love for country, or a treasury plan).
And, perhaps most importantly for me, both shows share the central theme of living in the present, making the most of your life at this very moment, because we don’t know how long we have. (YOLOing before it was a hashtag.)
There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.
No other road
No other way
No day but today
– Another Day, Rent
Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!
History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to beIn the greatest city in the world!
– Schuyler Sisters, Hamilton
Look around, look around…
Look at where you are
Look at where you started
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle
Just stay alive, that would be enough
– That Would Be Enough, Hamilton
A few months ago, my TalkSpace therapist recommended creating a playlist of songs that could be my daily go-to for de-stressing and to help kick my anxiety in the face; his thought was that I could create a Pavlovian emotional response to the songs over time so that I could call upon the melodies or lyrics in especially anxious moments. Among other confidence-boosting Broadway songs (Don’t Rain On My Parade, anyone?), Another Day ended the list, so the last thing I heard every morning was the reminder to be present. While we were in Europe, in moments of anxiety or panic, both No day but today and Look around, look at round at how lucky we are to be alive right now became my mantra, a voice of reason trying to keep me calm.
But even more than being a psychological aid, these shows inspire me to do, to create, to love, to go. Rent has been in the back of my mind, inspiring and motivating me to take risks and do what scares me, to go for what I want when I want it, for more than fifteen years. I remind myself that there’s no day but today when I question whether or not I should do something. When I studied abroad in Paris, I hung quotes from the show all around my desk as constant reminders to take full advantage of the opportunity I’d been given.
And now Hamilton, which I have the pleasure of seeing next March, also serves as motivation and inspiration. It reminds me of the importance of hard work, fueling my own creative fire, and that no matter how bad things may seem, we’re still lucky to be alive. It can be easy to forget that we live in amazing times, that our technology allows us to easily travel, work, document our experiences, stay in contact with one another, and learn about the world in ways previously unheard of. Look around, look around…
We never know how long we have on this planet. We hope and plan for long lives, but something could happen at any moment. There’s never more time to do something than there is right now. So we go. We travel. My husband and I work our butts off so we can take time off, and also work remotely whenever possible or necessary. We love hard. We follow our passions, though they may change or evolve along the way. We don’t worry so much about having the cleanest house or the nicest yard or doing things just because we’re supposed to but rather doing things that enrich our lives now, that we will remember fondly forever, that we won’t later regret not doing. In fact, avoiding regrets is my basic M.O. There is no future, there is no past…
This is why we have embraced home exchange and AirBNB. This is why I made a 40 Before 40 list. This is why I don’t mind working late or on weekends or taking my work on the road. This is why our travel schedule is booked non-stop through the middle of next year. I want to see and do and go as much as possible… right now.
What music inspires you? Any particular song, album, artist or show that has impacted your life? What mantra keeps you inspired?