RENT: Coming Home to the Hop
“Rent” is what you need to pay every month in order to live. It’s also a description of a state of disrepair, disorder, as in “torn apart.” Author of the book, lyrics and music, Jonathan Larson named his rock musical RENT to include both senses of the word. And now you can see it (or see it again) at the Hopkins Center’s Moore Theater as the Dartmouth Department of Drama presents its first MainStage production since the beginning of the pandemic. (February 18-27).
Winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Musical, RENT holds a unique place in Dartmouth history, as it was first seen at the College in 1994 as part of New York Theatre Workshop’s annual summer residency. It opened off-Broadway in 1996, moved to Broadway shortly thereafter, and closed in 2008, making it one of Broadway’s longest running shows.
The production is forever associated with the sad fact of Larson’s untimely death. After laboring for years on RENT, with collaborators and later alone, Larson watched the final dress rehearsal on January 24, 1996, then gave an interview to a New York Times music critic. After the interview, he returned home and in the early morning of January 25, Larson died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm. He was 35 years old. RENT went on to have its preview opening that night.
Though Larson never got to see the opening night performance nor experience the acclaim for his work, an early collaborator on RENT, Billy Aronson, offered this comforting thought. “. . . And as tragic as it is that he didn’t live to see his work become a huge success, I believe he knew it would be. In our last conversation I asked how the show was going and he said, with complete assurance, that it was incredible.”
RENT is based loosely on Puccini’s opera La Bohème, and coincidentally, its opening in 1996 was on the 100th anniversary of Bohème’s debut. Larson swapped out bohemian Paris for life as he knew it in contemporary (1990s) New York’s East Village. The then-scourge of tuberculosis was changed to that of HIV/AIDS.
Carol Dunne, Senior Lecturer at Dartmouth (and Producing Artistic Director at Northern Stage) is directing RENT. She hopes “the production illuminates the power of the creative force to propel us through difficult times. ‘Producing RENT in this moment is a powerful experience. Our students' own pandemic struggles mirror the struggles faced by the characters in this play,’ says Dunne. ‘To see twenty five students together again and singing of the transformational power of love is breathtaking. We need this right now.’”
Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop Jim Nicola will talk about what RENT means for the American theater—past, present and future—at the Top of the Hop on February 25 at 7 p.m. A post-show talkback with the student cast and company will also take place on Friday, February 25, immediately after the performance.
For further information or to purchase tickets, click here.
(Photo, top, enhanced/auto-brightened, courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rent_at_Nederlander_Theatre_in_Broadway.jpg, Aronson quote, http://www.billyaronson.com/musicals.php#rent
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.