When I moved to New York City, I had a list. It included things like gallery openings and walking in Central Park at night and getting promoted. I’ve lived here for seven years. I’ve done almost all of it. But last night, I crossed off a big one—one of the few lingering things that moved up and down the list over the years, depending on my priorities, my place in life, my income:
I saw a Broadway show on opening night.
The show was American Idiot and sitting in our rather high-altitude seats, I couldn’t help thinking about some other theatrical firsts in my life, and how seeing a show has changed so much since I was a kid. Last night, the audience howled and applauded for most of the show, a noise big enough to rival the noise onstage, which isn’t insignificant. It was thrilling—I love to see people having big noisy fun at a the theater when it’s appropriate—but it never used to be like this. When I started seeing shows in the early nineties, you went to the theater and you sat silently for two hours, and everyone around you was old enough to be your grandmother.
And then Rent happened. I was 15, and I went with my friends, not my parents, and I wore my red-and-blue patterned Doc Martens and one of my mom’s old t-shirts from the seventies, and I screamed my lungs out for two hours. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life—a complete shift in the idea of what a Broadway show should be, and who should go to see it. I’d loved lots of musicals before Rent, but they felt like they were written for someone else—for someone’s monied, aged perception of a Broadway audience. And then Jonathan Larson saved us, or at least gave us something else to think about. Les Miz made me cry because I so got what Eponine was saying, but Rent was mine—for and about my generation. And the show’s cues were pretty clear: It was more than OK to treat it like my generation treats its live entertainment—to dance and shout and stand on your chair if you want to.
That’s what happened last night, when the kids in the balcony clapped and sang along, and shouted back at the stage. It made me happy that this is part of Rent’s legacy, and that I got to grow up with it. These days, having a young, engaged, noisy audience is not just a norm, but a pretty healthy goal for any show. So bring on Green Day. Or anyone else who’d like to blow the roof off a Broadway theater eight times a week. That’s what my Broadway looks and sounds like these days, the language of right here and now, and what a lovely noise it is.