Bringing Rent back for a new audience

 Bringing Rent back for a new audience

THE LEGACY of Jonathan Larsson’s Rent is stronger than ever today, in a world where rock musicals and LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer plus) rights are more accepted than they were in the 1990s, when its story is set and when it first came out.

Rent takes place in New York, where a group of young adults try to navigate poverty, the loss of love, the discovery of romance, and the pursuit of their dreams in the city — all under the shadow of HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) looming over them.

A powerful narrative of friendship, representation, reality, and connection, director Robbie Guevarra believes the award-winning musical must be brought back now for a new audience.

“The extremely positive reception to Larsson’s semi-autobiographical [musical] tick, tick… Boom! was a surprise, but we found something interesting from that. There were people who saw it that didn’t know Rent, since they discovered Larsson from the 2021 Netflix movie 9 tick, tick… Boom! starring Andrew Garfield,” said Mr. Guevarra at a March 25 press preview of the musical.

The iconic musical was last staged back in 2010-2011 by 9 Works Theatrical. “After the success of tick, tick… Boom!, we thought it’s time to bring these new audiences to Rent,” he added.

500 PEOPLE AUDITIONEDRent stars an all-new cast: Anthony Rosaldo as Roger, Ian Pangilinan and Reb Atadero alternating as Mark, Molly Langley and Thea Astley alternating as Mimi, Garrett Bolden as Tom Collins, Adrian Lindayag and Lance Reblando alternating as Angel, Justine Peña and Jasmine Fitzgerald alternating as Maureen, Mica Fajardo and Fay Castro alternating as Joanne, Markki Stroem as Benny, and Guji Lorenzana as Mr. Johnson.

“While it’s popularity among young ones has been overtaken by more recent productions like Hamilton, in the theater world, everyone knows Rent. There were 500 auditionees for this show,” Mr. Guevarra said.

For Mr. Atadero, the only cast member who was also in 9 Works Theatrical’s staging of tick, tick… Boom! last year, the legacy of Jonathan Larsson is unmatched. This time, he takes on the narrator of the story, Mark Cohen.

“I do feel the pressure of carrying on Larsson’s legacy, but it’s a privilege to be invited to play within the worlds he created,” he explained. “As an actor, when working with direk Robbie, we aren’t just encouraged to think outside the box. In fact, we create the box and fill it in however we want.”

The current atmosphere being shaped by the pandemic also adds a layer of depth to how audiences might connect with the story, according to scenographer Mio Infante.

“We looked for things that will make it resonate with audiences now. The sense of isolation, anxiety, and issues of mental health are some of the more resonant aspects we found. Coming from the pandemic, audiences may relate to the anxiety and stress of having something that you don’t completely understand. We drew parallels to that without changing the text,” he said.

LANGUAGE OF MENTAL HEALTHRent’s staying power is made more relevant now, with people turning to the arts to overcome the mental toll of today’s struggles, in contrast with how it is impossible to be solely sustained by art.

Younger millennials and Gen Z are also better equipped with the language of mental health and LGBTQ+ representation, allowing for changes even in the casting of certain characters, particularly Angel.

“As a trans person, the fact that I’m here speaks volumes. The call for auditions specified that Angel could be transgender or gay, so my queer self was affirmed because I only ever saw Angel as a gay man. The avenues are now open to see her as a transwoman,” said Ms. Reblando, who alternates as Angel with gay actor Mr. Lindayag. Depending on which one is playing the character, his/her pronouns are changed.

HIV/AIDSFinally, the issue of HIV/AIDS remains a significant one, particularly in the Philippines where infections among the 15 to 24 age group have increased 216% over the past decade.

Mr. Stroem, who plays Benny Coffin and Tom Collins in certain performances, is an ambassador for LoveYourself PH, a local non-profit organization that provides free HIV testing and treatment.

“There are still many young people who don’t want to tell their parents because they’re scared to come out and be shamed for who they are, especially in religious families and communities with a lack of sex education,” he explained.

“The good thing is, it’s not a death sentence anymore. LoveYourself follows individuals over three months so they can get injections and contraceptives that fight against HIV. Now, you can live a better quality of life, even with a partner, as long as you take your pills.”

Because there is a higher awareness now of the various issues tackled in Rent, audiences will be able to go into the story with a modern mindset.

“We’re more privy to many things now, so we can view the material with modern eyes,” said Ms. Pena, who plays Maureen. “We’ll be able to see simple love stories in the queer couples, their struggles as people like anybody else. It’s an opportunity to discover deeper stories in the material outside of the stigma.”

Rent will be showing from April 19 until the first weekend of June, at 3 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and 8 p.m. on Fridays, at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati. Tickets are now available via — Brontë H. Lacsamana