Sneak Peak by Lissa Gapultos of “Rent”: Incline Theatre
The Warsaw Federal Incline Public Theatre continues its District Series with Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent, a loose adaptation of the opera La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini. Many of the elements of the opera remain in Rent: starving artists, an ailing leading lady, the bonds of friendship and the power of love. Even Musetta’s Waltz is heavily referenced in the musical. In creating Rent, composer Jonathan Larson heightened Puccini’s plot by setting it in New York during the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the late 80s and early 90s, supplemented with an unapologetic spirit of activism and rebellion.
RENT-heads will be happy to know that the Incline’s production, directed by Matthew Wilson, is not an attempt to update or modernize the musical. This is strictly a period piece that is stuck in the 1990s, as much has changed about HIV/AIDS and even New York City since the show’s off-Broadway premiere in 1996. This group of young artists and musicians navigate life as they pursue their creative visions and struggle with addiction. They celebrate their freedom, strive to have their voices heard, while not selling out and giving in to the conventions of adulthood.
This ode to the hard-earned freedom of young adults contains music which echoes the angst and enthusiasm of being a bohemian in New York. To properly reflect the population of the Big Apple, the original production made the conscious effort to make the cast as diverse as possible, something which had not previously been pursued in musicals. Fifteen 20-something actors make up the diverse cast of Rent in the Incline production. Wilson’s casting choices deviate from the usual specific ethnic “types” of previous productions, so it should be interesting to see how this shifts the dynamics between certain characters.
Christopher Carter will perform the role of Angel, the kind and nurturing drag queen. Rent was the first cast recording that sparked his love for theatre, and he is more than thrilled to be performing his favorite role. He finds Angel’s sincere compassion for others as she deals with her own issues a rewarding experience as an actor.
What made Rent stand out at the time of its premiere was the risk associated with its bold themes of addiction, homosexuality and HIV/AIDS, all on full display. Nearly two decades after the off-Broadway opening, it is disappointing that these themes continue to be relevant and just as controversial today. Yet Rent revels in life, death and love among a family of friends, something that will speak to everyone’s inner 20-something who wants to be taken seriously and is committed to their convictions, but not yet willing to join the mainstream.