Entertainment :: Theatre

Rent returns... with a difference

by Joe Siegel
Contributor
Wednesday Nov 18, 2009
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Rent returns to Providence this week, but with a difference. The current national touring company, which plays through November 22 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, reunites three of the musical’s original cast members -- Adam Pascal, who plays rock musician Roger Davis; Anthony Rapp, who played his best friend -- aspiring filmmaker Mark Cohen; and Gwen Stewart who sang the solo part in the anthem "Seasons of Love."

Pascal came to Rent in a roundabout way. He was playing lead singer with an up-and-coming New York City band when his friend Idina Menzel suggested he audtion for the role of a struggling rock singer in a musical that was being produced at the New York Theatre Workshop. He did and joined Menzel as part of the original cast.

Rapp, on the other hand, was a child actor already seasoned on Broadway when he came to Rent. Stewart was also a Broadway veteran when she came to Rent where she played multiple roles prior to stepping into the role of Joanne.

Joining Pascal, Rapp and Stewart, are Nicolette Hart (Maureen Johnson), Justin Johnston (Angel Schunard), Lexi Lawson (Mimi Marquez), Michael McElroy (Tom Collins), Jacques C. Smith (Benjamin Coffin III), and Haneefah Wood (Joanne Jefferson). The ensemble is rounded out by Karmine Alers, Toby Blackwell, Adam Halpin, Trisha Jeffrey, Joshua Kobak, Telly Leung, Jed Resnick, Andy Señor, Caren Tackett, Yuka Takara and John Watson.

Rent, which is inspired by Puccini’s La Bohème, follows a group of struggling artists in New York’s East Village, as they strive to find their voices, to connect to each other, and to survive. Despite the grim setting and the looming specter of H.I.V. and AIDS, Rent is ultimately a celebration of life and hope. The show won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Score and Book. Sadly, composer Jonathan Larson, whose own artistic struggle inspired Rent, did not live to see the show’s extraordinary success; he died of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35, just hours after the show’s final dress rehearsal off-Broadway.

The show’s influence on musical theater has been tremendous, Rapp believes.

"Rent proves that you can take commercial risks and be successful. So it encourages producers to think outside the box. I don’t think Spring Awakening would have happened without Rent. I don’t think Avenue Q would have happened without Rent. The show also transformed young people’s relationship to theatre. It introduced many, many young people to the idea that theatre could mean something to them, and they have returned for the other shows that have followed."

This production also reunites the original director Michael Grief, the original choreographer Marlies Yearby and Tim Weil, the original music supervisor and conductor.

Rent opened at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre, on April 29, 1996, following its historic engagement at off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop. The musical went on to win every major best musical award that seaon, including the Tony Award, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Rent played its final performance at the Nederlander Theatre on Sept. 7, 2008 after playing 5,124 performances which made it the seventh longest-running show in Broadway history.

Remaining performances are are Wednesday, November 18 at 7:30P; Thursday, November 19 at 7:30P; Friday, November 20 at 8P; Saturday, November 21 at 2P & 8P; and Sunday, November 22 at 1P & 6:30P.

Tickets for Rent are on sale now and can be purchased at the PPAC Box Office, located at 220 Weybosset Street, in downtown Providence, Monday through Friday, 10A - 5P; Saturday, 10A - 2P; and through curtain time(s) on show days. Patrons can also purchase tickets online at www.ppacri.org or by calling (401) 421-ARTS (2787). Tickets for Friday/Saturday Evenings and Saturday/Sunday Matinees are $68, $58, $53, and $43; all other performances are $63, $53, $48, and $38. All ticket prices include a $3 restoration fee.

Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more. For more information, contact Group Sales Representative Paul Hiatt at phiatt@ppacri.org or at (401) 574-3162.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

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