By Sheila Enright, contributing writer
She giggled, she gasped, she wept, she LOVED it! “She” would be my 13-year old daughter, and “it” would be the 20th Anniversary touring production of RENT at the National Theatre. It’s only there through Sunday November 17th, and if you can go, you absolutely should.
I was lucky enough to have seen RENT at the original touring performance at The National in 1999, and my memory is of an extremely relevant, energetic and highly innovative rock musical reimagining the Puccini opera La Boheme, highlighted by several show-stopping numbers and performances.
Twenty years later, at my daughter’s insistence, we watched the RENT LIVE! broadcast this past January on Fox. I had to bite my tongue when I realized just how much my theater-loving daughter was enjoying it, because it struck me as disjointed and confusing, despite some outstanding music. (Don’t even get me started on the whole “live” thing being ditched last minute for a recording of the final rehearsal!) It was difficult to follow the stories of several sets of lovers, and their artistic aspirations and disappointments, and I was left feebly muttering “Um, not sure, let’s keep watching and it’ll make sense soon…” At the time, I told myself that if the chance arose for my girl to see an actual live performance of RENT, we would do our best to make that happen.
Seeing it back on an actual stage made me appreciate the cohesiveness of a contained yet perfect set, centered around an enormous sculpture which serves as both part-tenement, part-Christmas tree; it allows you to feel easily transported between the loft apartment and abandoned lot where the various story lines transpire. For my daughter, the set and continuous references to the time-frame (a calendar year), which weren’t so discernible in the televised version, gave her a much deeper appreciation of the themes of love and creativity triumphing, even over illness, death, and greedy landlords.
Our personal favorite actors were Aiyana Smash, who played Mimi Marquez, and Joshua Tavares as Angel Schunard, but many cast members had extraordinary moments. When Mimi belted “Out Tonight” while performing gymnastic hijinks on an iron balcony and stairwell, I had to grip my armrests to stave off my own acrophobia — but wow, was that an awesome number! And if my daughter could have had Angel perform all night, she would have felt it was time well-spent. Oh, and the intermittent “Voice Mail” numbers, where various parental/authority figures leave pestering/clueless messages for their angsty/eye-rolling twenty-something children? I thought they would sail over the head of my angsty/eye-rolling 13 year-old, but of course not. Mocking parents is universal and ageless!
If you get the chance, go see this fabulous show before it heads back on the road Sunday, and if you’ve got any kids over 13 who love theater, or even creative rebellion, make sure to take them with you!
More about RENT:
In 1996, an original rock musical by a little-known composer opened on Broadway… and forever changed the landscape of American theatre. Two decades later, Jonathan Larson’s RENT continues to speak loudly and defiantly to audiences across generations and all over the world. Now, this Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning masterpiece returns to the stage in a vibrant 20th anniversary touring production. A reimagining of Puccini’s La Bohème, RENT follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. With its inspiring message of joy and hope in the face of fear, this timeless celebration of friendship and creativity reminds us to measure our lives with the only thing that truly matters — love.
Watch a trailer for the show:
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- RENT’s 20th Anniversary Tour runs at the National Theatre from now through Sunday, November 17
- Run time: Approximately 2 hours, 35 minutes, including intermission.
- Recommended for ages 13 & up
- Children under the age of four are not permitted to attend the show.
- Click here to purchase tickets, which range from around $54 to $114 (prices may vary depending on day/time of performance).