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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

20th anniversary 'Rent' tour stops in Boston

The 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” had its final performance at the Shubert Theatre, Boston, on Nov. 10. From its very first show at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1993, “Rent” has won several musical awards over the years and was adapted into a movie featuring most of the original cast members in 2005.

The 20th anniversary tour was operated by Boch Center at the Shubert Theatre and presented by Work Light Productions. The 2005 movie version of “Rent” set the bar high for later productions, but the 20th anniversary tour was a success. The crew’s tribute to the iconic costumes and the stage design of “Rent” elicited much appreciation and nostalgia. Old fans of the musical were glad to see some familiar elements in costume design — Angel’s iconic Santa Claus coat with zebra-striped leggings and bright green underwear, Tom’s worn-out knitted hat, Collins’ film camera and Mimi’s candle — as well as the giant, glittering Christmas tree on the stage.

Director Evan Ensign kept most of the elements similar to the original and let the talent of the cast shine. From the warm and loving “Light My Candle” to the heartbreaking “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)”, the cast captured the audience with their vibrant vitality on the stage and immersed the audience with their raw emotions through the climaxes of the play. The song “Over the Moon” by Maureen, a bisexual performance artist, brought much laughter as the actress moved her hips and sang in a wickedly funny manner. The last song in Act One, “La Vie Bohème,” brought the excitement to a feverish height as the cast, jumping and dancing on and off the dinner table, celebrated their poor but liberating bohemian lifestyle.

Act Two opened with the famous “Seasons of Love,” but the poverty, the heartbreaks and eventually the death of Angel, a drag queen percussionist with AIDS, soon brought many to tears. In “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)," Angel performed a dance to portray Angel before death — abandoning her proud drag queen outfit and revealing himself as a skinny, pale boy struggling to live. The dance was visually shocking and provoked much thinking on the realistic situation of AIDS patients, which still remains a quite relevant issue today.

The life of young artists in “Rent” is poignant and touching, but the story behind the scene sounds more astonishing. Billy Aronson, an American playwright, loosely based the musical on Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera “La Boheme.” After seeing Puccini portraying the life of young bohemian artists living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s, Aronson was inspired to replace the flamboyance of Paris with a modern setting to recreate the classical story. Jonathan Larson, the composer of “Rent,” suggested the musical to take place in Lower Manhattan. With the help of Larson, the two finally brought the musical together in an Off-Broadway theatre in 1993. Larson, sadly, died of an aortic dissection the night before the Off-Broadway premiere and only left behind one newspaper interview.

​Taking the behind-the-scene story into consideration, the 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” reminded the audience again of young artists’ struggle with poverty and disease. With the cast’s compelling performance and the crew’s faithful tribute to the designs in the original, “Rent” brought us back to the coarseness, the struggle, the love and the hope of young artists in Lower Manhattan in the 1990s.