I first saw Rent at National Theatre about 22 years ago, just over a year after it debuted on Broadway and was an instant hit. It was one of those powerful theatre experiences that sticks with you, something greater than the beautiful story told on stage through sensational performances and stirring music.
Rent pushed boundaries in a way that no other Broadway show had before as it explored themes of life and love and friendship. The story follows the lives of seven artists over a year in the 1990’s struggling to achieve their dreams and navigate their relationships — in the shadow of the AIDS crisis. It was raw and edgy and unapologetic as the storyline included addiction, homosexuality (and homophobia), and a disease associated with panic and fear. It was also hopeful, inspiring, and joyous as it celebrated life and love and friendship, and prompted audiences to ponder what matters, how they measure a year in the life.
Fast forward 20+ years, and Rent is back in DC at the National Theatre on the 20th Anniversary Tour. When I was invited to see the show to review for KFDC, I jumped at the opportunity. But I would have gone to see it, anyway, having loved it so much the first time. I wondered, though, would it hold up after all these years? Was it just the timing that made it strike the chord it did back in the 90’s, when AIDS angst was intense and incorporating it into a musical a novel idea?
Well, as the title of this post indicates, Rent holds up — and then some. The show was just as phenomenal, if not more, than it was all those years ago. Perhaps it has to do with my perspective and seeing the characters from a maternal point of view more than as a peer (amazing what changes in 20+ years). Or maybe this time I was processing less and just enjoying more. Regardless, I loved it. All of the performances were brilliant, delivered with passion and grit, but I have to note that Joshua Taveres as Angel, Kelsee Sweigard as Maureen, and Shafiq Hicks as Tom Collins were especially wonderful.
The score is still soul stirring, and this time I had to hold myself back from bursting into song along with the cast. The story, while viewed a bit differently as the AIDS situation has changed, captures that period of time in a powerfully evocative way. And the heart of the show, its themes of life and love and friendship, remain steadfastly universal.
I highly recommend seeing Rent during its run at National Theatre. And when you do and hear the question “How do you measure, measure a year?”… I think the answer will be easy.
RENT – 20th Anniverary Tour
Where: National Theatre | Downtown DC
When: November 12-17, 2019
Tickets: $54 – $117 (look for discounts)
Run time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, including one intermission
Recommended for ages 13 and up.