The Voice Of Downtown Boston

The 20th Anniversary Tour Of Rent Comes To Shubert Theatre

Rent runs from April 11 to 23 at the Schubert Theater.

Rent is visiting Boston on its anniversary tour across the United States, 20 years after its original opening at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1996. Jonathan Larson’s 90’s rock musical follows a year in the life of several bohemian artists as they sometimes relish, sometimes struggle with the gritty realities of New York City. Immediately popular, the original sold out its off-Broadway run, moved to Broadway and has been loved by audiences around the world ever since, winning both a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize in the process.

Twenty years ago, Rent grabbed the theater’s spotlight, as its creator and composer put it, by bringing “musical theater to the MTV generation.” Of course, it has had a much more profound and lasting effect. Borne out of Larson’s desire to respond to the tragic HIV epidemic of the time, Rent’s characters and score come together in songs like “I’ll Cover You,” “No Day But Today” and “Goodbye Love” to cope with the disease and act as a tribute to the friends Larson lost. The play is filled with an urgency and vivacity, even as it confronts the sadness of death. In “Seasons of Love,” arguably the musical’s most famous song, the characters reflect on the transience and meaning of life.

Loosely based on Italian composer Giacomo Pucinni’s opera “La bohème “, co-creator Billy Aronson conceived a musical that would parallel the story’s “boisterous Left Bank bohemians” living in Paris in 1830 with the lives of artists in the 1990s. Similarly, the current run of Rent has undergone tweaks to subtly translate its staging, choreography and characterization to speak to audiences today.

“It’s a new palate,” explains Marlies Yearby, the Tony-nominated choreographer of the 1996 Broadway run, who has returned for the 20th anniversary show. “I was very attracted to [the cast] because of who they are as themselves and their authentic selves and how they approach that character.”

“We need to be true to our time, but we also are here and alive and participating in [the show],” explains Evan Ensign, who staged the current version, regarding the political and racial issues of today. “We have a cast that comes at it from a whole different point of view than we did 18 or 20 years ago because of what was going on then.”

Still, the leads of the 20th anniversary cast know Rent well, and grew up idolizing the musical and singing along to its many iterations on stage, CD, or screen. Danny Harris Kornfeld, who plays Mark Cohen, recalls his devoted relationship with the music, “It was the first cast album that I ever fully memorized, beginning to end.”

Rent runs from April 11 to 23 at the Schubert Theater with matinees on both weekends. Tickets can be purchased here. Originally built in 1910 for Shakespeare plays exclusively, Schubert was coined as the “Little Princess” of the Boston Theater district. Both intimate and ornate, the venue’s red seats, beautiful white molding, golden wreaths, and low-overhanging balcony set the tone for an artistic experience.