'Revolution Rent,' the documentary exploring the journey of 'Rent' to Havana
The musical Rent brought together a group of young Cubans who made history on the island and are now the subjects of a new documentary.
The accolades received by the iconic musical Rent since its premiere in 1996 until now, are innumerable. In 2014, it made history by becoming the first musical to be performed by a U.S. company in Cuba since Castro came to power. Out of this journey by the play all the way to Havana, the documentary Revolution Rent was produced.
The documentary follows in the footsteps of director Andy Señor Jr., a Cuban-American who played Angel in the original Broadway production. For him, taking the production to the country of his parents and his roots meant delving into a painful past of exile.
"There was hesitation about telling my family, but I didn't think too much about it because I knew I wanted to go to Cuba," Señor Jr. said.
Within six weeks, the production recreated Rent in Havana. The show opened on Dec. 24 in the Cuban capital.
For Señor Jr. and the team, it was a major challenge to channel writer Jonathan Larson's vision into the show.
"Jonathan's words, music and reputation are the spirit of what 'Rent' is. People understand the impact of the show and the message of love, tolerance and family through it," said Señor Jr.
However, Rent in Cuba was a new opportunity for both Señor Jr. and the Cuban cast. Some of the actors cast had never performed on stage before auditioning, and some were even uncomfortable tackling the issues the musical discusses.
Rent follows a group of young adults in New York City struggling with economic hardship and the rise of HIV/AIDS.
"Revolution Rent is a continuation of our journey, as well as a tribute to the power of theater and its ability to transform lives," said executive producer Neil Patrick Harris.
Despite expectations, Señor Jr. realized that being in Cuba as an American meant experiencing cultural differences and understanding the reality of Cuba and not the idea one may have in their head about the island.
"Getting there and seeing how urban it was and that young Cuban artists couldn't relate to the nostalgia that was particular within the exile community was something new for me to understand. So I thought, what is Cuba now that is not this nostalgic version?" said Señor.
The documentary can be found on HBO Max.