By Seth Reines, June 2019 Issue.
In 1996, an original rock musical by a little-known composer opened on Broadway and forever changed the landscape of American theater. Rent became the Hamilton of its day. Now, over two decades later, Jonathan Larson’s Rent continues to speak loudly and defiantly to audiences across generations and around the world.
Larson’s re-imagining of Puccini’s La Bohème 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 at the height of the AIDS crisis, this timeless celebration of friendship and creativity reminds audiences to measure their lives with the only thing that truly matters — love.
Larson wrote, “In these dangerous times, where it seems that the world is ripping apart at the seams, we all can learn how to survive from those who stare death squarely in the face every day and we should reach out to each other and bond as a community, rather than hide from the terrors of life at the end of the millennium.”
Rent’s message continues to touch audiences of all generations. This past January, his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning masterpiece was broadcast on network TV as Rent: live. And May 28-June 2, the show’s 20th Anniversary Tour plays ASU’s Gammage Auditorium.
Recently, Echo discussed the impact Rent has on millennial audiences with two of the tour’s out cast members, Chase McCall and Sean Ryan. (Chase plays Steve and understudies Rent’s two male leads Roger and Mark. Sean also covers Mark plus all the ensemble roles and serves as the tour’s dance captain, maintaining the integrity of Marlies Yearby’s choreography.)
Echo: Why do you think there is such a recent interest in the show?
Chase: I think there has always been an interest in this show, which is why the 20th Anniversary Tour is happening right now. We get a wide range of audience members from those who saw it when it first opened on Broadway and are now bringing their own children to experience the show to those have seen the movie but never on stage. I may be new to the Rent family, but it feels like the interest has always been there!
Echo: Why is it important for LGBTQ millennials to see this show?
Chase: They need to know their history. Where the “LGBTQ” came from and what they’ve been through. And, then, making the choice to learn more about the LGBTQ community before the ‘90s. The AIDS crisis has become more manageable, but it is still an epidemic and it’s very important not to forget that.
Sean: It’s also valuable and powerful for LGBTQ millennials to come to a show and see characters who, just like them, are living their true, authentic lives and being accepted for it.
Echo: What feedback have you gotten from LGBTQ millennial audience members?
Chase: They say how much they connect with certain characters, which is fascinating because these are based on people living their adult lives in the late ‘90s. You wouldn’t think millennials would be able to relate to characters from over 20 years ago, but they still find the similarities and that is a truly beautiful thing.
Sean: Millennial audience members that come to see the show love it! The sense of community and love resonates with all different age groups young and old!
Echo: How does being in Rent affect you emotionally?
Sean: Performing the show is such an emotional rollercoaster. There are so many highs and lows! I get very choked up when we sing a song like “I’ll Cover You,” but, then, I’m smiling from ear to ear when we get to “Finale.”
Chase: Emotionally, it affects me in many different ways. Not only experiencing what happens in the story, but also what happens off stage. I understudy both Mark and Roger, and I have to be ready at a moment’s notice. I make my day to day decisions based on if it’s in the show’s best interest. As much as I love performing as my career, at the end of the day it is my job and I have to execute it to the best of my abilities.
Echo: Did TV’s recent Rent: Live differ from your production?
Sean: TV’s Rent: Live had the same great story, but we do it live eight times a week. And nothing compares to seeing it live in a theater.
Chase: Of course it was different, because there were cameras in all of the actors’ faces. I am happy to know it exposed people around the world to the show in a way it never had before, but there is something special about the way Jonathan Larson originally saw and conceived it onstage, and that’s exactly what our touring production does.
For tickets to Rent’s iconic 20th Anniversary Tour, contact [email protected]