An audience of nearly all ages, apart from young children, crowds into the auditorium for the closing weekend of Rent. It’s a show Miller had resisted staging till this year because he felt the original New York production “was so exactly right, so perfect, why would I change anything?” When he saw the Off-Broadway revival in 2011, also directed by the original director Michael Greif, “I loved it every bit as much, and it was totally different. Walking out of that theatre that night, I was like, ‘I can work on this. I’m not handcuffed anymore.’ They freed me from the original production.”
Miller’s Rent is youthful, movingly raw, and unfailingly intimate; it doesn’t smooth over the original work’s odd, form-bending structure. It feels almost as if it’s being made up on the spot, and that gives it a kind of immediacy it probably hasn’t had much since its debut at Off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop.
“I hated Rent the first time I saw it, but I loved this production,” raves Newmark. “It really did change my mind about the show.”
That’s a story many can tell about Miller and his unlikely theatre. You might say he’s in the business of changing people’s minds: about shows they thought they hated, about subjects they didn’t think could be sung about, about the musical form itself. The key to Miller’s success may be that—for all the ego necessarily involved in running a theatre and writing several books and blog posts expounding your point of view—what has guided him above all is his willingness to have his own mind changed, even occasionally blown.
“My experience over the years has been that if I don’t understand something in the script, if it doesn’t feel like it works, it’s probably my fault—it’s probably not the script’s fault,” Miller says. “I think a lot of directors won’t take that. If something doesn’t make sense, they change it. Well, it’s probably ’cause you don’t get it.”
Now that’s some high fidelity.