November 22, 2005

Readers on "Rent"

The 1996 musical about East Greenwich Village bohemians, debuting as a film on Wednesday (here's an excerpt from my review in The American Conservative), was parodied in "Team America, World Police" as "Lease." Trey Parker and Matt Stone created a rousing rock anthem to close "Lease" entitled "Everyone Has AIDS!:"

Everyone has AIDS!
Everyone has AIDS!

And so this is the end of our story
And everyone is dead from AIDS...
Well I'm gonna march on Washington
Lead the fight and charge the brigades
There's a hero inside of all of us
I'll make them see everyone has AIDS...

Everyone has AIDS!
My grandma and my dog Ol' Blue (AIDS AIDS AIDS)
The pope has got it and so do you (AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS)
C'mon everybody we got quilting to do (AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS)
We gotta break down these barricades, everyone has
Repeat 20 times

In the Broadway theatre seats, the well-dressed audience of middle-aged white people (or, to be technical, middle-aged white puppets) cheers along.

That raises the question of who exactly goes to see "Rent." A lot of people evidently do. It's coming up on its 4,000th performance on Broadway, making it the 8th longest running show ever (and still going). In contrast, here are some other shows' original runs: My Fair Lady 2717 performances, The Sound of Music 1443, The Music Man 1375, The King and I 1246, Guys and Dolls 1200, Cabaret 1165, City of Angels (a favorite of mine due to my Raymond Chandler obsession) 879, and Camelot 873.

(Do musicals enjoy longer runs these days because they have less competition? In the 1950s, a truly great new musical debuted about once a year, so did they drive each other off stage?)

But, who are they who are paying up to $100 a ticket to see "Rent?" A reader writes:

"Rent," let us remember, was first a big hit with the mid 90's NYC artsy crowd, pro-gay central, home of the PC politburo; that was the audience. After they raved about it, regular schmucks like yours truly had to get the 60--or better yet, 80-dollar tickets for their hot dates.

Why did it work with that initial crowd? Like "Oceans 11," it's fun to imagine different types working well together. But the theater class, unlike the jocks or nerds, would rather be in a group that sings and dances around then a group that knock-offs banks. We're trying to have a musical here!

But I digress. The initial artsy crowd dug the token white hets because they secretly, actually, dig having at least one straight single man around. Think Renee Zellwegger's speech in that Tom Cruise sports-agent flick, "I still love men." One strong, white, heterosexual, responsible Man around, good. Too many, bad. Too many ruins the vibe.

Moving on, it worked for the hot-chick-isn't-it-cool-living-in-the-city-crowd cause, let's face it, as much as that type of chick likes chatting with the theatre crowd at lunch on occasion, they really want to go to the prom with Joe Quarterback Class President Naval Academy. He's gotta be in the play. Great that he's so open minded these days. Whatever.

Their escorts said they it was ok cause, what the heck, be a little flexible, man, we're trying to keep the ladies happy.

Then the rubes said they liked it because, Jeezus Christmas, it won all those awards, so it must be good.

The late Richard Grenier, long time film reviewer for Commentary, wrote a review of Tony Kushner's AIDS drama Angels in American for National Review in 1993:

Just who are the legions of theatergoers that have made homosexual theater commercially viable? Here we come to a curious recognition. Starting after World War II, Jewish playwrights have succeeded on Broadway in large numbers, and at the same time Jews have come to dominate Broadway audiences. When I returned to America from Europe in 1977, and was required for professional reasons to see almost everything on Broadway, I was intrigued to find theater audiences that seemed overwhelmingly Jewish -- a point perhaps more noticeable to the son of a Jewish mother. So I found it not especially surprising that, in a recent week of diligent theatergoing in New York, at the more commercially successful homosexual works, I got the impression that the audiences were something like 10 per cent homosexuals and 90 per cent heterosexual Jews -- to all appearances well-to-do, liberal, husband-and-wife couples. We had some heterosexual Gentiles in the audiences, no doubt, but they appeared to be a distinct minority. During a preview of Angels in America, when one of the characters uttered an expletive in Yiddish, the house positively roared with laughter. . .

Many liberal Jews... have fully accepted the parallel between discrimination based on race or religion and discrimination based on 'sexual orientation.' This parallel is reflected in the AIDS plays -- indeed, it is more than reflected. To put it plainly, these plays are about Jews and Jewishness almost as much as they are about homosexuality. The plays' authors are almost all Jewish. Angels in America is by Tony Kushner, Jeffrey is by Paul Rudnick, and both music and lyrics to Falsettos are by William Finn. The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me is by the only Gentile, David Drake, but the title's Larry Kramer is Jewish and a real person. He is the author of The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me, two angry AIDS- homosexual plays of 1985 and 1992, respectively. (Barbara Streisand is currently planning a movie version of The Normal Heart.) In all these plays a homosexual, usually the Jewish protagonist's Gentile lover, dies of AIDS. This is the fixture of these homosexual works, novels as well as plays... .

The leading Jewish figures are homosexuals and most of the leading homosexuals are Jews. The characters talk endlessly about Jews and homosexuality, homosexuality and Jews. The playwrights themselves find a correlation. Am I not to notice this?. . ."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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