‘Rent’ visits Philly for the weekend with 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour
The 25th anniversary tour of ‘Rent’ is touted as the show’s “Farewell Season of Love,” a “final chance” to see the production tour.
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Jonathon Larson’s Rent first reached Broadway audiences in 1996. Since, Larson’s work has been transformed into renowned, nationwide productions and staples of the theater world.
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Rent, Larson’s work includes Superbia and Tick, Tick… Boom!. The latter was recently adapted into a Netflix film of the same name.
Larson passed away the night of Rent’s off-broadway premier. Since, the work has prevailed through the years, reaching its current 25th Anniversary, dubbed the tour’s “Farewell Season of Love.”
Rent’s “Farewell Season of Love” will hopefully not be the last time the show is seen on stages at such a grand level, but the finality of the farewell does bare weight.
For the first time since its inception, the touring production of Rent with its revolving cast will be retired — ending its 25-year run of bringing the show on the road.
“This is like the last time that this particular production is touring, I know it’s the last time these costumes are being used, like the directions, like everything, it’s sorta like saying bye to this monumental-like staging that was originally 25 years ago,” cast member Lyndie Moe told CBS Philly.
The show supports themes of love over fear, life without regret, and art with intentions greater than wealth and attention.
Upon its release, Rent challenged dynamics and precedents in theater by incorporating characters of multicultural backgrounds in its depiction of a modern friend group.
The musical’s attention to multiculturalism welcomed on-stage depictions of Latina, Black, white, and queer companions while bringing dignity and humanity to a portrayal of HIV-positive individuals.
In its 26th overall year, productions of the show take Larson’s writing of a multicultural friend group further by opening doors for performers of various backgrounds to play the musical’s cast.
This includes Mark Cohen who was famously played by Anthony Rapp in the original Broadway production. Mark’s status as the observer of the group does not limit who plays the leading role.
Rent came to the Kimmel Cultural Campus last week for its “Farewell Season of Love,” spanning a weekend (March 4-6) in Philly before packing for the next city.
Rent 25 years later, told through the music
Rent follows a group of bohemian artists and friends living in New York’s East Village and living through the enduring AIDs epidemic.
As the group pursues change in their city — particularly focusing on ways to lessen tensions between police, landlords and a homeless community — the relationships between the friends are tested by personal insecurities and health complications.
The spoken dialogue for Rent welcomes many vital interactions and story elements, but it’s the abundance of performed musical numbers that carry Rent’s story.
Rent jumps from one hard-hitting song to the next, developing characters, world, and humor along the way.
Numbers like “Tango: Maureen” build interrelated relations between characters while developing the factors that contribute to strain between the cast.
Through the humor of the number, aspects of alienation, infidelity, and insecurity are touched on while the unique connection between characters Mark and Joanne is developed.
The ability to propel the story and develop characters through song is consistent within the musical, and used to its advantage.
Snippets of the friends’ tensions are often touched on mid-song, such as Mark and Maureen’s past introduced by a call for equipment repair during title-track “Rent.”
Rent reminds the audience that art for the sake of creation has merit, and revenue does not define the value of one’s artwork.
At the same time, Rent follows artists struggling to make ends meet. The audience is made to root for their bank accounts, hoping for impending income, but not without losing their sense of character.
The musical marks a commonality here by defining art with a purpose while highlighting the struggles of many artists to live off passion.
In Larson’s own life, he struggled to find work with companies he respected. Due to political differences and personal beliefs, Larson would sever opportunities in favor of the service industry.
This distance between artistry, stardom and wealth, is touched on in “La Vie Boheme,” one of the musical’s most celebrated tunes.
Rent’s farewell in Philly
Philly’s production of Rent starred Tommy Kaiser, Coleman Cummings, and Shafiq Hicks as best friend trio Mark Cohen, Roger Davis, and Tom Collins, respectively.
Hicks is a current voice major at Temple University. He has taken a gap year to focus on his role in Rent.
Jarred Bedgood also appears as Benjamin Coffin III, Rayla Garske as Joanne Jefferson, Aiyana Smash as Mimi Marquez, Lyndie Moe as Maureen Johnson, and with Javon King as Angel Schunard.
Rent’s New York City was crafted by set designer Paul Clay, with the show’s 1990s fashion recreated by costume designer Angela Wendt. Choreography was carried out by Marlies Yearby.
These team members are only a few of the many who worked to bring Rent to life over 25 years after its initial release.
Each member of the team comprises the beating heart behind the the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ on-stage productions.
This touring production of Rent may have already come and gone in Philly, but the tour is still on the road.
Tickets remain for a number of U.S. cities with show dates between tonight and April 24. The tour is now in New York until March 8.