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Sep 17, 2016

Rent Opening Night

By Broadway Live INSIDER - Michael J. Miller


The 40th anniversary season of Broadway Live at the Opera House kicked off tonight with a raucous and riveting opening of a new touring production of "Rent," a bohemian phenomenon that just so happens to be celebrating its 20th anniversary.

When "Rent," a rocking musical version of Puccini's "La Boheme" opened in New York twenty years ago, Jonathan Larson was ravished with rave reviews that young, struggling composer-lyricists dream about.

As we all now know, Larson wasn't there to relish in the praise- he died of an aortic aneurysm on the night of the final dress rehearsal at the age of 35. "Rent" depicts the life he knew- a disease and drug-plagued yet joyous Bohemia of the early 1990's East Village.  A Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony Awards soon followed, and the press celebrated an incredible story, perhaps even more dramatic than when choreographer Gower Champion died hours before the opening of "42nd Street" 16 years before.

Pundits pondered whether or not this rebellious musical would have ever even been the red-hot ticket it was if Jonathan Larson had lived.  Twenty years later, the answer to that question is once again answered with a resounding "Yes!" as witnessed by tonight's ravenous reception at the Lexington Opera House.

"Rent," like "Hair" before it and most recently "Hamilton," drew a wildly enthusiastic younger demographic than traditional Broadway theatre.  20 years later, it was invigorating to see last night's Lexington audience peppered with now fifty-somethings (me) who were the young and fearless RENT-Heads of its first generation sitting alongside twenty-somethings experiencing it for the first time. 

The "Rent" time-capsule of the 1990's East Village holds up in somewhat frightening ways. Twenty years later we are still in the midst of AIDS, albeit now more treatable and preventable than ever before.  Horrifyingly, the heroin addiction that also runs through the veins of a few of the main characters now has spread even to the streets and country roads of the smallest Kentucky communities.  

What runs most true, though, is the show's joyous and rebellious embrace of the "other." "Rent" is a celebration of "being an us for once, instead of a them."  As this talented cast and crew take that message on the road to towns large and small over the course of the next several months, it comes at a time when we "others" need it most. 

"Rent" was a revelation twenty years ago.  The revolution it provokes and promotes is still being fought for every day. Truly, there is no day but today. And, profoundly, "Rent" still answers its own most important question: "What about love?"

INSIDER Tip:  AIDS Volunteers, Inc. (AVOL) will have a table in the lobby of all performances this weekend.  Stop by for more information. The organization has been on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic for more than 25 years.  AVOL provides housing and supportive services to over 400 low-income men and women living with HIV/AIDS in over 70 counties in central and eastern Kentucky.