I FIRST saw Rent in London's West End three years ago, not
as a fan but a newbie without preconceived ideas about the
first reaction was surprised pleasure - it was raw, energetic,
intelligent, moving and real, certainly the best urban musical
community & identity in modern urban life – Rent's core themes – are
still very much alive here
also felt regret. Unlike jaded West End staples like Phantom
Of The Opera and Les Miserables, I thought it would never
make it to Singapore.
all, it spotlighted bohemian anti-estab types, Aids, drugs,
S&M, homeless people, same-sex relationships that worked,
an exploitative yuppie class. Hardly kosher in our prim,
clean, brochure-friendly city.
mind the rockin' music, great writing and the affirmation
of life, love and kick-ass 'tude.
when I first heard that Rent was in town, it seemed a real
milestone in the arts scene here. What's more, it came hot
on the heels of such risque shows as Asian Boys Vol 1, Shopping
and F**king and the Vagina Monologues.
Rent to crown a new era of the arts, in which we would finally
loosen up and have fun?
good folks behind Rent Singapore must have felt the same
way. It explains why the run-up publicity had played down
some of the musical's edgier elements.
why Singapore Repertory Theatre had meekly accepted the
National Arts Council's R(A) rating and denial of funding
just three days before the show opened, despite much consternation,
scrambling and extra costs backstage.
least the show went on uncut, and the market got to give
to their credit, Rent's corporate sponsors stuck to their
guns despite the setback. Some of them have even started
a tickets-for-charity online drive to raise funds for Indian
why the last-minute decision? The NAC says it can't fund
a play that acknowledges ''alternative lifestyles as an
accepted way of life''.
enough, except that Rent has been around for yonks - plenty
of time to issue early objections to the effect.
someone fail to do their homework till it was way too late
to stop the show without looking like a cad?
a more charitable scenario: An enlightened NAC was keen
to give Rent the green light, boosting our claim as a world-class
someone from the outside made noise, and the NAC was obliged
to play policeman.
not improbable: On Rent Singapore's online message boards,
there were calls for Rent to be banned for ''glamorising
homosexuality'', as early as January - well before the NAC's
louder voices might have made their reservations clear behind
the scenes as opening night approached.
these calls for a ban were shouted down by fans.
noted that a recent episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with lesbian overtones had screened on TV here.
cited the positive themes of the musical - community spirit,
creativity, and relationships based on mutual respect instead
NAC itself remains coy about why it funded shows like Shopping
and F**king and not Rent, apart from saying the ''treatment''
of risque themes was ''different''.
is why I'm puzzled that some theatre-aficionado friends
have called the musical ''dated''.
moved past those issues,'' they say.
NAC's decision, brickbats and bouquets online, even the
heated exchanges on some of Eyeball's online forums, suggest
that the debate on sexuality, community and identity in
modern urban life - core themes in Rent - is still very
much alive here.
discussion deserves to be joined by a broader segment of
society. Which makes Rent the ideal musical for a season
of love in the 21st century.