Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Rent/Joan Marcus
'Rent' opens tomorrow at the Neal Blaisdell Concert
Hall for a two-week run through Aug. 13.

Long-awaited ‘Rent’
due tomorrow


"Rent," an ensemble musical with no big-name stars, was a hard sell, taking seven years from concept to its debut in 1996, but Jonathan Larson's story about "being young, being brave and scared, being in love and being in trouble" resonated with a generation raised with the specter of AIDS and an uncertain future.

"Rent" went on to become one of the biggest shows on Broadway, winning the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, The Obie Award, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, and it makes its Honolulu debut tomorrow at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall.

The drama is based on an assortment of young people struggling to survive the trials of trying to make it in New York. The cast of characters reads like a list of troubled youth. They include:

Bullet Roger Davis: A struggling musician who's HIV positive. Roger hopes to write one last meaningful song before he dies.
Bullet Mark Cohen: A filmmaker and video artist, and Roger's roommate.
Bullet Tom Collins: An HIV plus computer genius who's back in New York after being away.
Bullet Benjamin Coffin III: Landlord of Mark and Roger's building. Benny wants to start a multimedia studio.
Bullet Maureen Johnson: A performance artist and Mark's ex-girlfriend.
Bullet Joanne Jefferson: A public interest lawyer, and Maureen's lover.
Bullet Angel Shunard: A transvestite street drummer also infected with HIV.
Bullet Mimi Marquez: A dancer with AIDS and a drug problem.

As dramatic as the story itself is the real drama of "Rent's" creation.

Director Michael Greif and the New York cast were rehearsing the second act when Larson collapsed. An ambulance took Larson to the hospital, and he was diagnosed with food poisoning. A few days later, after another incident, doctors at a second hospital said Larson had the flu.

Then on Jan. 25, 1996, Larson attended the final dress rehearsal of "Rent" at New York Theatre Workshop. By the end of the show, he was accepting the congratulations of friends. Then he went home and died. Larson was 35.

The idea for "Rent" came from Billy Aronson, a Yale trained playwright who loved opera and wanted to write a musical updating of "La Boheme;" a show about people struggling to make art under trying conditions.

Acquaintances suggested he work with Larson and the two met in 1989. Larson came up with the title "Rent," but he didn't like Aronson's proposed Upper West Side setting. Larson lived a Bohemian life downtown in a a scruffy loft that had a bathtub in the kitchen. For a while, he and his roommates kept an illegal, wood-burning stove. He dated a dancer for four years who sometimes left him for other men and finally left him for another woman.

In 1991, Larson called Aronson asking if he could make "Rent" his own; Aronson agreed.

When the New York Theatre Workshop put on a reading of "Rent" in 1993 producer Jeffrey Seller, who had met Larson several years earlier, was present. He felt the time was right to produce a musical.

Larson wrote his mentor Stephen Sondheim to ask for advice and assistance. The composer encouraged Larson to apply for a Richard Rodgers foundation grant. Larson eventually won $45,000 to support a workshop production of "Rent."

New York director Michael Greif listened to a tape of "Rent," liking "its youth and enthusiasm." Greif met with Larson in January, 1994, and they set to work on improving the script. The workshop was scheduled for November.

During the November workshop's second week, Seller brought his business partner, Kevin McCollum, a Punahou graduate who loved the play. Another business associate Allan S. Gordon joined forces with New York Theater Workshop to stage a full production of "Rent" the following year.

On stage

Bullet What: "Rent"
Bullet When: Opens 8 p.m. tomorrow, continuing Aug. 13. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays, with additional 2 p.m. performances Aug. 3, Saturdays and Sundays
Bullet Where: Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall
Bullet Tickets: $22.50-$65 at Blaisdell box office
Bullet Charge by phone: TicketPlus, 526-4400; group discount, 732-7733

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin