20 years ago, a small, grungy show by a little known composer billed as a modernized version of Puccini’s La Bohème opened in a small theater off Broadway. A short two months later, the phenomenon that is RENT began its spectacular run on Broadway. Selling out night after night, and winning both the Tony for best musical as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, RENT was the show everyone wanted to see.
Fast forward 20 years (or 10,512,000 minutes) later, and RENT is once again moving audiences with the inspiring story of friendship, authenticity, gentrification and love. The San Jose engagement of RENT: 20th Anniversary Tour opened to an enthusiastic crowd of “RENT-heads” and new fans at the Center for Performing Arts this Tuesday.
A revamp of a show as iconic and pivotal as RENT is brave. The question forefront in my mind was whether or not a story, so firmly rooted in bohemian Alphabet City at the height of the AIDS epidemic would hold up today…and would this relatively inexperienced cast be able to stand up to the iconic performances of Broadway powerhouses such as Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Jesse L. Martin?
For people unfamiliar with the story, RENT is the story of a year (525,600 minutes) in the life of a group of friends trying to survive, stay together and live a life true to themselves while facing the pressures of eviction due to gentrification, addiction and the reality of too many lives lost at the hands of AIDS.
Any questions or hesitations I had about RENT 20 years later were soon put at rest. For much of the cast, this is their first professional theater experience. Perhaps it is the newness to the stage that brings out the rawness and hunger in their performances. RENT is so much about finding your way in your youth after all. While there are some stand out individual performances: Aaron Alcaraz kills it as Angel with a dazzling performance of “Today 4 U”, Jasmine Easler steals “Take Me or Leave Me” and Lyndie Moe completely goes for it as Maureen, it was the beautiful harmony of the cast that moved me the most. The cast rocked “La Vie Boheme”. I am a sucker for “Seasons of Love”. I was not disappointed.
Looking back on how you measure the past year, the cast reminds us: “There’s only us, there’s only this”. Friendships are tested, loved ones are lost, but the spirit of hope prevails. RENT may be set in bohemian Alphabet City, NYC in the late 90’s, but many of the themes ring true as they ever were today.
The San Jose engagement of RENT: 20th ANNIVERSARY TOUR is presented by Broadway San Jose and is playing now through January 28th. Tickets are available at www.broadwaysanjose.com or at the box office located at the Center for Performing Arts (255 Almaden Blvd.) or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787).