I saw Rent when it came to Boston 20 years ago and was invited to see if again this week. I remember crying hard the 1st time I saw Rent. Rent is a rock ‘n roll tragedy set in NYC that faced the AIDS epidemic straight on with beautiful and painful meolodies and lyrics. 20 years later is Rent: 20 Year Anniversary still meaningful?
While AIDS seems as distant to young audiences now as tuberculosis of the opera La Bohème does to me, there is still so much that is relevant. Drug addiction, poverty, eviction and homelessness are all as big a problem as it ever was. Friendship, community, love, and loss are also timeless.
I didn’t have tears rolling down my cheeks as I did for the 1st time; nonetheless I was moved. AIDS is a disease that at the time was made so much more complicated because of homophobia, secrecy, shame, and ignorance. The layers of the plague were complex in a way that no other diseases were and the diagnosis was terminal. AIDS doesn’t carry that weight in the same way anymore.
I had to stop myself from singing along at a few moments, but the rest of the time I was speechless. While the entire cast did an amazing job, a few characters really stood out for their vocals. Shafiq Hicks was wonderful to watch and listen to. His character, Tom Collins, was full of light and love and his voice was richer than all the Westchester parents calling in to check on their kids. Rayla Garske played many smaller roles, but stole the show in Seasons of Love. If you’re paying attention, she’s just as strong in the smaller roles as well.
Coleman Cummings and Cody Jenkins were a dynamic duo as the main characters Roger Davis and Mark Cohen. Aiyana Smash was a believable Mimi and had some powerhouse moves as did Juan Luis Espinal as Benny. Samantha Mbolekwa also shone with her impressive voice as Joanne performing some of the most “acrobatic” vocals on songs where she is carrying on three conversations at once.
Joshua Taveres was a fierce Angel. She sported a Tori Spelling vibe with her looks that were kind of everything and was jumping off fire escapes and onto tables in heels that I am not sure I could even walk in.
The relationships between friends, lovers, neighbours, landlords/tenants, and support groups were what really made the show buzz with energy and life. The entire company worked together seamlessly to create that energy. These relationships reflect moments we can all relate to at various stages in our lives. The music holds up and I still have the songs running through my head all week.
For parents and their teens it is a bit of a history lesson but also very relevant to today’s struggles. There is explicit references to sex and drugs so you have to be comfortable with that. (As a parent of a teen this is something you shouldn’t be ignoring anyway.) For those younger adults who may have never seen Rent it touches on so much of life that is still very real today from making rent, to bad landlords, to friendship strains, and health and wellness.
Rent 20th Anniversary Tour is at The Boch Center’s Shubert Theatre through November 10th. Tickets are available online here. You can also enter the discounted ticket lottery at Lucky Seat or get discounted tickets at GoldStar.