Through a reading of Jonathan Larson’s rock opera Rent, I explore how the genre of musical theatre ‘queers’ time. Rather than a continuously progressive temporality, I suggest that the musical comprises shifts along a continuum between a standstill and accelerated
time, with the production numbers veering towards these heightened extremes. Rent advocates a powerful ‘no day but today’ mentality in the wake of crisis, bringing time to a standstill against the apocalyptic pace of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Anthems, reprises and other repetitive
frameworks ‘queer’ narrative time and capture a fragmentary sense of communitas that valuably blurs the lines among characters, performers and audience members. While the genre of musical theatre may seem steeped in abstract idealism, then, performers can step out of character
and spectators can join the anthem, appropriating the formal difference and the utopian openness of the musical number to a wide array of concrete social causes.
University of California, Los Angeles
Publication date: August 18, 2011
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Studies in Musical Theatre is a refereed journal which considers areas of live performance that use vocal and instrumental music in conjunction with theatrical performance as a principal part of their expressive language.