“Rent” is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the timing couldn’t be better.
At a time when the nation is politically divided, the Tony-winning musical, now on a national tour stop at the Golden Gate Theatre in The City, carries a powerful message of resilience, love and inclusivity.
Inspired by Puccini’s La Bohème, the story follows a group of struggling New York artists trying to find their way in the world while building community in the face of AIDS and the threat of eviction. The characters are powerful, multiracial, straight, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Groundbreaking at the time for its portrayal of people living with AIDS, the show remains as poignant as ever. At the center are three couples facing the complications that love brings.
Puccini’s Mimi is an embroiderer with consumption; in “Rent,” she’s an exotic dancer and HIV positive (played beautifully by Skyler Volpe). Both women are loved and cared for by their friends.
Modern Mimi’s love interest is Roger, a musician struggling to commit; he’s HIV positive, too, but is reluctant to say. The show begins with Roger and his friend Mark trying to stay warm, bringing to mind Puccini’s Rodolfo, who burns his manuscript with his friend Marcello to keep warm. Kaleb Wells (Roger) does an excellent job, as does Danny Harris Kornfeld (Mark).
On stage are the faces of a diverse, compassionate America.
The company sings, “How do you measure a year?” and gives the answer: “How about love?” It’s especially moving in the current political climate, and it’s hard not to sing along with the hit “Seasons of Love.”
This is a world of pay phones, where people look into each other’s eyes when they talk.
Aaron Harrington is superb as Tom Collins, a gay philosophy professor, as is David Merino as Angel, his drag queen partner who has AIDS; both are tender and funny.
Other standouts include Jasmine Easler as Joanne, a lesbian lawyer, and Katie Lamark as Joanne’s partner Maureen, a bisexual performance artist.
Merino and Lamark ooze with a joyous sensuality that complements their partners.
The women get to show their power; the men, their vulnerability.
“Rent,” a huge success when it opened on Broadway, ran for more than a decade. Sadly, creator Jonathan Larson died of an aortic aneurysm shortly before it was due to open off-Broadway and was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1996.
His talent and wisdom are evident in the incredible music and lyrics, as when the company sings “La Vie Bohème,” and Mark says, “The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation.”
“Rent” serves as a reminder that artists still struggle to find affordable places to live and work — as did the December fire in the Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse that killed more than 30 people.
“Rent” doesn’t flinch when it comes to heartbreak, and more than a few tears will be shed at the end. But ultimately, the musical is about creating community and being kind – a message that is timeless.
Presented by SHN
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 19
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.
Tickets: $25 (rush) to $214
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com