Rent, the musical reinvention of Puccini’s La Boheme, rarely graces Vancouver stages for an obvious reason: it’s a difficult show to pull off. When Flourishing Age Entertainment recently took on such a heavy musical, they certainly made sure that they were up to the challenge. In a low-key staging of Rent at the Orpheum Annex (a fitting venue because of its medium sized house and black box feel) local talent shone. In particular, Chelsea Rose Tucker (Maureen), Imelda Gaborno (Mimi), and Matt Hume (Collins) all displayed immense vocal strength and control, allowing the audience to sympathize for their characters and not having to worry about things like vocal quality. The plot follows a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the dark shadow of HIV/AIDS.
The thing about Rent is that no matter the production or how well it is executed, the show itself has an undying appeal. True, seeing a musical on Broadway is always different from an amateur performance in downtown Vancouver, but there is no denying the relevance of the script to all audiences. Rent addresses social change, homelessness, homophobia, power in minority groups, the bohemian artist community, consumerism, capitalism, drug addiction, and so many more issues that the Vancouver citizen can identify with. It reaches out to the LGBT community, to artists, to anyone with a soft spot for romance, to the aspiring rock star, and truly to anyone looking for their place in the world. Just like Mark, most people are going through life in search of their second family; their group of people they can rely on. Their home.
Jonathan Larson, the writer, composer, and lyricist of Rent, died unexpectedly on the morning of the musical’s first preview performance off-Broadway. The impact of his work has made him renowned worldwide. It is one of the few musicals that reached a non-theatre audience, as its songs have been covered by Pop singers, and there are those who rarely watch Broadway shows but have seen the 2005 movie. The show has its flaws, as all do. I’ve always thought one of the weak points of the musical to be Mimi’s miraculous recovery. However unrealistic as it seems, I understand it is a flaw that Larson may have recognized but could not bring himself to correct. Maintaining the reality of the story was less of a priority compared to the need for a hopeful ending. In a play where so much of the content imitates the mostly grim truths of reality, ending on a hopeful note can be transferred back into our lives as well.
In our chaotic world today, HIV/AIDS may not be on the forefront of our minds, but Rent’s mantra of living in the moment and seizing opportunities is something most of us easily forget. Amidst the various levels of hell which the characters go through, Angel’s optimism and knowledge helps lead the rest of the character to a faithful ending. So, my advice to you, in the spirit of the greatest modern American musical, is to soak in everything while it’s here.
“There’s only now
There’s only here
Give in to love
Or live in fear.
No other path
No other way
No day but today.”