Produced by Work Light Productions
Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Evan Ensign
Based on the original staging by Michael Greif
Choreography by Marlies Yearby
Music Supervision and Additional Arrangements by Tim Weil
Shubert Theater COVID-19 protocols
Review by Kitty Drexel
BOSTON — RENT 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour “Farewell Season of Love” at the Shubert Theater is Rent. You will love it or hate it based on your preferences for the dated rock musical.
My lovely wife and I had a fun time. We like the show. The people sitting immediately behind us had a better time. They said they’d seen it every time it came through New England. That’s a lot of Rent.
Rent is now a period piece. It was first performed on Broadway in 1996; I was a sophomore in high school. Bill Clinton had taken office for his first term that January.
In 1996, queer people couldn’t exist in public without being harassed. Trans people were fired from their jobs and ostracized from their communities as a matter of course. Rosie O’Donnell was still straight, and Tom Cruise was still sane. Ellen was only recently gay. Drag Queens were never discussed in friendly conversation. It was easier to blame the victim than to fix society.
Presidents Bush Sr. and Reagan had tried to kill as many gay men (and drug addicts who didn’t vote for them) as possible by not funding AIDS research. They openly hated the LGBTQ+ community. It was acceptable. I remember because my grandfather used to say terrible, unrepeatable things about “the homos” during car rides. He had no idea that I and my femme queerness was seething in the back seat.
All this is to say that Rent blew many a closeted, conservative mind in 1996. There just wasn’t anything like Rent in the mainstream. Not since Hair.
Rent has lesbians who live! It has a gay couple! Angel is a drag queen! It’s based on an opera! It was a massive deal.
So, when millennials on the Gen X cusp like me get excited about Rent, that’s why. It gave us the freedom to be who we were/are. It opened the doors for federal gay marriage, the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The gay community survived AIDS but just barely. Thank goodness heteros keep having more of us. Conservative Republicans and moderate Democrats used to believe we recruited. If you Google those politicians, photos make it super obvious that heterosexuality isn’t a choice either.
The US government let AIDS decimate our community because it could. Conservative politicians are letting another virus kill US citizens now, too. Get vaccinated. Do it out of spite if you have to. Live to see them eat their words. Just live.
Speaking of the virus. The Shubert Theater is checking vaccination cards and requiring masks. It is otherwise packing in as many people as it can into the theatre. It is impossible to remain socially distant.
Concessions are being sold: alcoholic beverages, water, snacks, etc. Patrons were wandering, drink in hand, all over with their masks down. It’s a little funny that the Boch is showing a musical about life during the AIDS epidemic while not doing more to help its patrons survive the COVID pandemic.
To sum up: Angel (Javon King) is awesome. She’s worth the price of admission alone. At the other end of the spectrum, Roger (Coleman Cummings) couldn’t remember to give acting a try unless he was poked and prodded in the fake tattoo by his fellow cast members. I haven’t seen someone commit that hard to the white hot passion of indifference since Small Mouth Sounds. Everyone else was great. The band was good.
The Rent cast and crew are performing eight shows this week before moving on to their next stop. That’s ridiculous. There’s no way the cast and crew have enough time between shows to recover. The union rules need reform.
Speaking of reform and union contracts: did you know that the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada (IATSE) is striking because of unfair and unsafe working conditions? Its members have been taken advantage of for too long. When we support workers’ strikes, we support better conditions for all.
Don’t cross the picket lines. The bosses already have too much money. It’s time they recognize who makes it for them.
Here’s a clip from Team America World Police that was inspired by Rent.