So Rent is due again, prorated for Off Broadway, in June 2011. Hardly a shock from an investor’s standpoint: The fourteen-year-old show remains enormously popular all over the country — who cares if it closed on Broadway less than three years ago? It was born at New York Theater Workshop and ought to fit snugly in a comparably sized house at New World Stages. In a similar case of shrinkage, Avenue Q seems to be happy in its underground lair at NWS, and the improbable hit The 39 Steps has flourished there as well.
Is this the future of Off Broadway? Fun-size versions of Great White megahits? If so, that’d be an interesting reversal: once the farm team, now an aftermarket for recycled name-brand theater entertainment. It wouldn’t work for every show, of course: As we’re seeing this season, not every musical scales up or down with the ease of a touchscreen pinch. Certainly, behemoths designed expressly for Broadway can’t be comfortably downsized. Avenue Q and Rent both began life as scruffy downtown chamber pieces, albeit ones with consciously built-in mainstream appeal. (In other words, don’t expect a diorama-scale Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown anytime soon.) A burgeoning long tail Off Broadway might actually encourage creators of Broadway shows to put more theater (and less production) into their theatrical productions. On the other hand, it could also create a traffic jam, as Off Broadway’s hothouses gradually fill up with downsized revivals, squeezing out more modest, potentially more inventive shows.
How about a more upbeat question: Whom to cast in the reanimated Rent? Which idle Idols and fourth-tier Gleeks could be lured into a 48th Street basement with promises of food and a makeup mirror? How will Megan Fox “build” her Maureen? You tell me, Vulturenet. You tell me.