"RENT": The Broadway Hit Comes to Tacoma on its 20th Anniversary

February 1, 2016

Directed by Jess K Smith ’05:
Friday, Feb. 26–Sunday, March 6

RENT, the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical that thrilled New York audiences for more than a decade, will be staged at University of Puget Sound this spring, marking 20years since the play first opened on Broadway. 

The collaboration between the Department of Theatre Arts and School of Music will revive Jonathan Larson’s dramatic depiction of life in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in the year between Christmas Eve 1989 and Christmas Eve 1990. Inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème, Larson created a dramatic, yet uplifting, story using rock music to evoke the tough, angry, and terrifying reality of a world wrought with AIDS, suicide, and drug addiction—all underscored by a theme of hope.

RENT will be staged at 7:30 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 26; Saturday, Feb. 27; Thursday, March 3; Friday, March 4; and Saturday, March 5. On Sunday, March 6, there will be a 2 p.m. matinee. The performances will take place in Norton Clapp Theatre, Jones Hall. Ticket information is below.

The student-acted production is directed by Jess K Smith ’05, with music direction by Dawn Padula, and Gerard Morris conducting the School of Music musicians. Other collaborators include Kurt Walls, scenic design; Mishka Navarre, costume design; Lawrence Huffines, sound design; and Patty Mathieu, lighting design.

“This is a show about choosing life and love in the face of death and disease,” Smith said. “As Act 1 ends, riots are breaking out over housing rights, a couple shares a kiss, it begins to snow, and this community of struggling artists and activists shouts out, ‘Viva la vie bohème!’

“They build a chosen family by being an ‘us, for once, instead of a them,’ inspiring each other to live life for the present, and turn away from fear and regret for the chance to live ‘no day, but today.’”

RENT’s dramatic action takes place amid poverty, homelessness, gay life, drag culture, drug addiction, and the AIDS crisis—making it not so dissimilar from La Bohème’s setting among poor young artists and a tuberculosis plague. The iconoclastic community was familiar to the musical’s creator, who himself lived for many years as a poor artist in New York, sacrificing stability for his art.

The Tony-award winning play, first staged in 1993 and later made into a film, greatly influenced musical theater of the day by reimagining old forms, tackling new content and themes, and expanding musical and theatrical language.

Scott Miller, respected musical director, playwright, and author of several books on the theater, wrote in an essay that Larson used “the structural vocabulary of classical opera with the harmonic and rhythmic language of rock” when he created RENT. It was the first musical in decades that younger audiences really identified with, wrote Miller, and it breathed new commercial life into the Broadway musical.

The timely musical ran for 12 years on Broadway, making it the 10th longest-running Broadway show, with more than 5,000 performances. Unfortunately Larson passed away unexpectedly the night before the first preview performance, and so never had the chance to receive the significant acclaim the work garnered.

FOR TICKETS: Tickets are available online at tickets.pugetsound.edu, or at Wheelock Information Center, 253.879.3100. Admission is $11 for the general public; $7 for seniors (55+), students, military, and Puget Sound students, faculty, and staff. Group ticket rates are available for parties of 10 or more by calling 253.879.3555 in advance. Any remaining tickets will be available at the door.

For directions and a map of the campus:pugetsound.edu/directions
For accessibility information please contact accessibility@pugetsound.edu or 253.879.3236, or visit pugetsound.edu/accessibility.

Press photos of director Jess K Smith ’05 and dress rehearsal photos, shortly before the production, are available upon request.
Photos on page:  From top right: Poster for this production of RENT; Dress rehearsal with the cast, by Kurt Walls.

Tweet this: It is 20 years since #RENT hit #Broadway. Come see it @univpugetsound Feb. 26–Mar 6. #Tacoma #TacomaArts http://bit.ly/1NMj9dK

 Follow us on Twitter! twitter.com/univpugetsound