The musical Rent had its first preview in New York in 1996. The night before, its creator, Jonathan Larson, dropped dead of an aneurysm. He was 35. Which makes Rent‘s battlecry – “No day but today” – quite appropriate. Rent is about a group of friends trying to survive empty wallets, a bitterly cold New York, AIDS, drug addiction, and soul-less conformity.
I learned about Rent only on the afternoon over a decade ago when my former boss tossed two tickets on my desk.
“Alam mo ‘yung Rent?” he asked me.
We were never effusive with words. After all, we published a men’s magazine.
For lack of something better to do, I grabbed a friend and we climbed up the Music Museum’s balcony the next night. And I was blown away. I’ve always loved theater and that night, I was reminded all over again why I did. The energy onstage was contagious; the songs kept their beat in my head hours after the music ended; Bobby Garcia’s direction was fresh and vibrant; and the actors – JM Rodriguez, Calvin Millado, Bituin Escalante, Lynn Sherman, Michael de Mesa – delivered such intuitive and touching performances I wanted to give them a 30-minute ovation.
But beyond all that, what got to me was Rent‘s message. “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss,” it said. And “Measure your life in love.”
I understand how universal messages like these affect especially those who feel they’re out to conquer the world. I was idealistic up to my hair roots and I had a promising career in print (which, at that point, consisted of ordering food for photo shoots and asking girls who posed for our magazine if they wouldn’t mind if I taped their boobs to create a cleavage for the camera). I was all set to do “No day but today.”
Unfortunately within the next few years, I took the message a bit too much to heart and consequently – and ironically – did things that left little room for love and lots of room for regret.
I found my footing eventually, though, and by then, I’d memorized all the Rent songs. Little by little, the emotional valleys and peaks levelled out to make a rather dull highway. Later on, The Hub came along. And The Hooligan. And The T-Rex. The highway, once again, developed unpredictable bumps and turns. All thoughts of Rent and its shout-outs to Carpe Diem got buried under a school rivalry (The Hub thinks his school is the one to beat, and all I can say is 2010 UAAP champions), diapers, and play school.
Some weeks ago (yes, this blog is so ridiculously up-to-date), I took a break from domestic life and, with a couple of friends, caught the last weekend staging of Rent; this time produced by 9 Works Theatrical. I wanted to see how I would feel watching the same musical that, over a decade ago, sent me on a roller coaster ride.
It must have been an off-day for them. At some points, it sounded like screeching instead of singing. And, worse, one of the solos was sung so obviously off-key.
Perhaps because of that, I left the theater not feeling as high as I did years ago. I’d expected to at least have a renewed energy to listen to the Rent soundtrack. No exceptional high, no extraordinary energy. I’d been wondering why for weeks; which is the reason why this post, like most in this blog, came late.
And now I got it. It’s because I’d finally learned to correctly live a no-day-but-today life – measured in love, with regrets forgotten. There’s no reason to feel extraordinary anymore after listening to Rent because, unknown to me until just now, I’ve imbibed its message. I’ve actually finally understood what Jonathan Larson was trying to say.