Everything is Rent.

It's been about three weeks since I've blogged. Sorry about that. Opening a show always takes a lot out of me, and usually leaves me half brain dead. (I don't know how I once did this while also holding down a full-time job.) And even though 90% of my job is done on opening night, it's still very hard for me to focus on anything else during our four-week run. Sometimes I have to, sometimes we have to audition the next show, but not this time.

Though despite my art-stupor, and thanks to ridiculous, record-breaking ticket sales, I was able to pay some bills that we wouldn't otherwise be able to pay till we close. Or well after we close...

Getting Rent ready and opened wasn't super-hard, but it was overwhelming. There was just so much to work out in this show – not only a big cast, but lots of tech, including sound effects and sixteen body mics. Luckily, we have exceptional people working on every aspect of this show, so everything came together beautifully. No crises, no big problems to solve. But it was still overwhelming.

Even more overwhelming has been the reception to our show. We've already sold out five of our first six shows, and it looks like the rest will probably sell out as well. I knew Rent would sell well, but I didn't know it would sell this well, far better than Hair, Rocky Horror, Bat Boy, Grease...

And my favorite part of this experience is that people who've never seen Rent before all seem to love our production, and people who've seen Rent fifteen times also seem to love our production. I was worried about that second group because our Rent has turned out completely different from any other Rent I've ever seen, and I thought the hard-core Rentheads might object to those differences. Character interpretations are different, the actors' physical types are different, the costumes are very different, the set is wildly different, which also means the staging is wildly different – we've staged the death scene in Act II so utterly unlike any other production. But it turns out that not only do the Rentheads accept this very different take on the show, they fully embrace it.

And there's a third group – people who don't really like Rent. Several reviewers have admitted they were in that camp... until they saw our production. That may be the biggest compliment of all.

Check out these reviews...

“If you think you've seen Rent before, you really haven't. . . This is a must-see show, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. . . Scott Miller's direction, with the able assistance of Mike Dowdy, is a revelation. . . Rent is a modern classic, and New Line's wonderful production shows us why.” – Chris Gibson, BroadwayWorld
Read the whole review here.

“This Rent has a completely different vibe from the big show that toured the country. Intimate and raw, this production makes the story coherent and the music effective, instead of merely loud. Yes, size matters – but not in the way we usually think it does.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Read the whole review here.

“This is a Rent that is sharp, incisive and viscerally moving. These characters matter; their struggles to find themselves in the wastelands of their early twenties are a potent reminder of what it's like to feel lost in your own life, and that even small steps toward maturity can feel immense. In New Line's hands, Rent is a show that deserves every bit of its formidable reputation as the musical that revivified musicals for the next generation. . . It is a masterpiece of stagecraft, a composition as visually stunning as it is sonically powerful.” – Paul Friswold, The Riverfront Times
Read the whole review here.

“Jonathan Larson's 1996 rock musical unfolds to epic proportions in this lively new production. It's also sweet and funny and beautiful, under the direction of Scott Miller. . . It almost seems Mr. Miller is choosing his seasons nowadays for sheer emotional complexity, along with New Line's usual focus on strong musicianship. And the results have been enthralling. Rent continues the company's recent trend of bringing stunning characters furiously to life, in all their contradictions.” – Richard Green, TalkinBroadway
Read the whole review here.

"An intimate, emotionally charged production filled with memorable performances. . . Director Scott Miller and assistant Mike Dowdy have assembled a uniformly talented, fearless cast, and the two excel in pulling out the small moments that illuminate character development. The presence of a guiding hand is clear throughout the production, yet the movements and character nuances feel almost organic, as if each actor pulled his or her role from the inside out. The result is a unified cast that creates a truly bohemian community on the stage. And this feeling is intensified in the group numbers, where layered harmonies blend seamlessly, rising and falling with the emotion of the story." – Tina Farmer, KDHX
Read the whole review here.

“With the current local production of Rent, the question was could New Line Theatre show me something the national tour hadn’t? The answer came last Saturday night: Yes. Yes, they could. . . Undoubtedly, the intimacy of a small production helps to make the story more sincere, but it’s more than that. Director Scott Miller has removed sole focus on a handful of characters to focus on the cast as a whole, and this helps to view the work as a singular organism, with a singular meaning and purpose. Even the music seemed better, with the excellent voices and performances by the cast and the New Line band under the direction of Justin Smolik, two things you can always count on at New Line. . . Everything works together throughout the entire production, top to bottom, for a powerhouse evening of theater.” – Christopher Reilly, Alive Magazine
Read the whole review here.

“Leave it to New Line Theater to give this seminal work a fresh spin. The result is an electric, enthralling presentation of the landmark Pulitzer-Prize, Tony-winning musical that ran for 12 years on Broadway. . . [The actors'] zeal propelled the show's intensity, and it seemed like we were seeing some of these characters for the first time.” – Lynn Venhaus, Belleville News-Democrat
Read the whole review here.

“The new concept and the advantage of intimacy that New Line always offers, makes this one a big, fat hit. . . It’s a total effort that shows the diversity and depth of New Line talent. Scott Miller has once again put his personal stamp on a classic show and it turns out to be yet another audience pleaser. . . this score is pulsating, tender and just a pure delight. Now we have a production that matches these great songs and makes you actually like the people who populate the show. This one’s a big hit, folks.” – Steve Allen, Stagedoor St. Louis
Read the whole review here.

“I was admittedly one of those folks who didn't get all the hype around Rent after I saw it for the first time several years ago. Well, now I get it. The characters this time around, though dealing with major issues that would be tough for anyone, have an affable quality that was lacking the last time I saw it. Could it be because seeing a show like this in New Line's intimate space makes the theatre experience not just something you see, but something you feel? Yes. But it's also New Line's artistic director, Scott Miller's knack for gaining a deep understanding of whatever he puts his hands on, and translating that to his cast, who in turn translate that to us, reaching out to the audience, in this case literally, with invigorating connection. way better than the touring production. There. I said it.” – Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob
Read the whole review here.

“I’m glad directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy have chosen to follow their own vision for the show. New Line’s version is full of youth and energy. It’s also staged with a sense of immediacy that brings a lot of life to the show. Although the passage of time has turned Rent into something of a period piece, New Line doesn’t treat it that way, and that’s as it should be. It’s an iconic show made achingly real, with all the truth and energy brought along with its humanity. It may have taken New Line many years to finally do this show, but this production is well worth that wait.” – Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts (local blogger)
Read the whole review here.

I love this production so much. I love all the performances. I love the band. I love all the design work. I love so many bits of staging that Dowdy and I created. And every night I watch it, I find new things in the text, new uses of musical themes. This show really is a masterpiece of the art form and it fully deserved its Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I love so much that we can give this new, fresh, reinvigorated take on the show to all those people who've experienced Rent only through tired touring productions, or community theatre imitations of the original production's set and staging, or worst of all, that godawful film version.

Since New Line's founding twenty-three years ago, it has been important to me to serve both our audiences and the art form itself. And I feel like we're doing that with this production. We're proving again what a serious, powerful, artful, intelligent piece of theatre this is.

Someone asked me what "my approach" to the show was. The answer is Tell the Story. All we did is work hard to tell this story as clearly and fully as possible. It may feel to some like a radical take on the show, but remember what radical means: "of or relating to the origin : fundamental." In that sense, this is a radical interpretation of Rent because "my approach" was just to discard all the Rents I've ever seen and go back to the text. In fact, that's our approach to pretty much every single show we've ever produced.

It always works. Just tell the story.

I frequently remind myself that none of my ideas, none of my insights matter at all, without intelligent fearless artists making those ideas come to life. The actors don't work for me; they are my collaborators, and every one of them has brought so much to their roles and to the show. They do as much work as I do to create this beautiful piece of art. I like to think of making theatre in terms of comic book art: I give the actors the pencil sketch, together we ink the lines, and then the actors fill in all the colors. We block shows pretty fast (usually 15-20 pages a night), and then take lots of time to run the show, so the actors have time and space to do the important work of fleshing out this imaginary world. That's what gives our shows such emotional honesty and it's what allows us all to take so many artistic risks. In the last part of the process, I'm just there to edit and polish; the bulk of the work is the actors'.

As stage and screen director Sam Mendes says, "Theater is the writer's medium and the actor's medium; the director comes a distant third." That's as it should be.

I could not be prouder of this show and I'm thrilled at how much padding we're gonna have in the bank account now...!

We're halfway through the run, and though nothing big will change anymore, the performances just keep getting richer and deeper and more interesting. That's the joy of live theatre.

If you haven't gotten your tickets yet, you should do it now.

Everything is Rent.

Long Live the Musical!