Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical “RENT” changed the landscape of Broadway when it premiered in 1996.
A re-imagining of Puccini’s “La Boheme,” “RENT” — currently in the third year of its 20th Anniversary National Tour — follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out.
“RENT” opened its six-day run at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando June 5. When we found out that openly gay journalist-in-training Colton Adkins (he’s one of our University of Central Florida summer interns) had never seen “RENT” we sent him on opening night to experience one of Broadway’s greatest shows. Here’s what he thought:
After being alive for 22 years, I finally saw “RENT” for the first time, and no it wasn’t the movie version. Thanks to the Dr. Philips Center hosting the third year of the 20th Anniversary Tour of the show as a part of their Broadway series, I was able to watch it live and up-close. I loved it!
Seeing LGBTQ characters brought to life by this cast was awe-inspiring. Struggling to see people like me represented in the media really isn’t too difficult for the most part: I’m white, male and cisgendered. My queer identity, however, has been severely deprived of representation from LGBTQ characters that are not hypersexualized or a caricature of queer people. “RENT” provides multiple characters that belong to this community that I can connect with.
Angel Schunard (played by Javon King) and Tom Collins (played by DevinRe Adams) depicted what I thought was a powerful same-sex relationship between two gay men (one of whom is a drag queen!) while also referencing an important chapter in LGBTQ history, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS still exists in the community, and it is important to have discussions about the virus and its impact on LGBTQ people and how it still disproportionately affects marginalized groups.
King and Adams both played their roles very well. This tour of “RENT” being King’s national tour debut shocked me because of his stage presence, and Adams’ ability to carry so much emotion in his voice brought me to tears in the second act.
Angel and Tom’s love for each other was a force that moved me while watching the show. The relationship was not purely sexual or a stereotype or forced. It was natural. There was no huge, revealing coming-out that changed the course of the story or made relationships estranged. Even the relationship between Maureen (played by Lyndie Moe) and Joanne (played by Lencia Kebede) while complex, did not exploit LGBTQ characters or garner any homophobia from other characters in the show. Their powerful vocal duet was so exciting and left me on the edge of my seat.
Seeing “RENT” inspired me as a member of the LGBTQ community. In a world where I have to constantly come out every time I meet someone new, I long for this idealistic reality that ‘RENT’ creates where my sexual orientation doesn’t inspire discrimination or elicit expectations of my character. The experience was uplifting and refreshing. Diversity and representation in this cast makes me wish we had more representation in the entertainment industry for LGBTQ people, people of color, women and where all of these groups, and their stories, intersect.”
“RENT” is running through June 10 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando. Tickets start at $29 and are available at DrPhillipsCenter.org.