Anchor Staff Writer
After seeing the musical “Rent” premiere Jan. 15 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, it was all I could think about for days. As someone who has seen many musicals over the years, this was by far the most impactful of them all. Not only was the theme of the play incredibly important, but this musical also featured an inspiring set, a diverse cast and some of the most rhythmically focused performances I have seen in any musical.
“Rent” focuses on the lives of young New Yorkers in a society dealing with the devastating epidemic of HIV/AIDS. It displays a wide variety of other themes involving drugs and LGBTQ+ issues, taking place in the late 90’s at the turn of the century into the new millennium. The characters within this musical are remarkably diverse, even more so than they are in the movie adaptation. There were actors of all gender identities, races and talent in this Broadway version. Many actors of color represented the characters, creating a very unified experience for people of all different backgrounds in the talent industry. Today, it is extremely important for us to have actors of color represented. In this musical there was a positively overwhelming number of diverse backgrounds among the actors. Young people of color in the audience who aspire to be actors feel welcomed if they see a positive number of POC actors on stage. It can help encourage them to become actors too. We need diverse authors and characters on television shows and in movies.
Characters struggled with issues that we still face in our world today such as homophobia, racism, addiction, prejudices and struggles involving HIV/AIDS. For people who are struggling with any of these topics, seeing this play can open doors to feeling supported and loved. The audience during my showing was extremely encouraging of the actors and were supportive of every act and number in the musical. In this play two characters have HIV/AIDS and struggle with their experiences, much like those of people who are diagnosed with this disease in real life. While it is not easy to go through this heartbreaking disease, one of the characters Angel, is a bright and upbeat drag queen owning it. He goes through this disease and yet his character is not only represented by it. This play is a heavy study on character and it shows.
I enjoy colorful and diverse sets in a play or musical. During “Rent” there was only one set for the entire show, unchanged throughout the entire performance. While this can seem very boring, it worked extremely well. Using only one set throughout the musical made it very character focused. Only one set allows the audience to focus on the experiences and the stories of each character rather than looking at the set and how it’s displayed. Credits to the set director because the musical takes place in such a large city with so many people, but really focuses on the lives of this small group. In this story, it’s not about the city or the place they are in but who they are and how they feel and act. The set was grungy and boring at best, but it’s meant to be that way so the characters' beautiful personalities can shine through.
The music and dancing involved was brilliant. The rhythm made for a very interpretive style and it displayed a great deal of feeling. In the scene where Angel is sick and Tom is caring for him, the style and rhythm in which he moves is incredible and one could see that he was in a great deal of pain. There was no need for words at that time because the dancing said it all. For a musical to have that power is incredible. The audience could understand without context what was happening at that time and it shows the depth and talent of not just the actors, but the writers and directors of this musical. While it can be more difficult to understand how to interpret certain kinds of moving and dancing, the actors made it quite easy for the audience to understand what was happening. Sometimes, words are not necessary.
I did not go into that theater thinking I would enjoy the musical at all. I prefer plays but after seeing “Rent,” I can only say that my mascara was not as waterproof as it claims to be. Rent is an incredible depiction of the struggling lives of young New Yorkers and shows that even the most unique musicals can make a difference in how someone sees the world around them.