When RENT opened on Broadway in 1992, it created a revolution in musicals and storytelling that was not duplicated until the premiere of “Hamilton” in 2015.
Now playing at Porchlight Music Theatre and recently extended through December 11 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, this Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical is directed by Adrian Abel Azevedo, with music direction by Dr. Michael McBride and choreographed by Laura Savage.
Music, lyrics, and book were written by Jonathan Larson who sadly passed away the night before the show opened of an aortic aneurysm. He left behind an enduring story of love, hope, and resilience that went on to change the face of musical theater.
Loosely based on the 1896 Italian opera La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini, Porchlight’s production celebrates the show’s legacy of the year in the life of a diverse group of artists struggling to survive in Lower Manhattan’s East Village. Always present is the threat of HIV/AIDS as well as drug and substance abuse in the community. In the thriving days of bohemian Alphabet City, these people are determined to follow their dreams without selling out.
RENT played more than 5,000 performances on Broadway, closing in 2008 after a 12-year run. It launched the careers of its original cast to stardom like Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Taye Diggs and Daphne Rubin-Vega. At the time, it was the seventh longest running show in Broadway history; today, it remains at number eleven.
Porchlight’s production, set in 1991 and 1992, aims to capture the social consciousness that is woven into Larson’s writing. These years contained events like the election of President Bill Clinton, the U.S. reaching one million HIV cases, multiple major protests and an NYPD sweep evicting hundreds of unhoused people from a park in the heart of the East Village.
Fast forward 30 years. While society is grappling with a whole new set of issues, the idea of living a life of meaning in difficult times remains as relevant as it was back then. But Larson’s call to hold onto hope, care for one another, and above all, “measure in love” remains as poignant as ever.
Porchlight’s production is full of high-energy dancing, outstanding voices, and a talented troupe of performers. Incorporating live video with the staging allows the story to be told in a new, compelling way. The set design utilizes a clever cassette tape as the main focus with a live band sitting behind it. Helping tell the story is the lighting that goes from darkness to light. Kudos to costume designer Gregory Graham for his realistic costumes of the early 90s.
Lucy Godinez is fantastic as Maureen with tremendous vocals that go beyond the rafters. Mention must also be made of Alix Rhode as Mimi and David Moreland as Mark Cohen.
For tickets to RENT, call 773.777.9884 or by visiting PorchlightMusicTheatre.org. Porchlight is located at 1016 N. Dearborn in Chicago. Masks are required in the theatre.
Next up on the 2023 season is Cabaret, January 14 – February 1, 2023.
All photos by Liz Lauren.