Ask KPBS/Arts: Should I Care About 'Rent?'
After a short winter hiatus, Ask KPBS/Arts is back to answer your most pressing arts questions. And we kick things off with a somewhat controversial one:
"I see 'Rent' is coming back for a 20th anniversary tour. Should I care?" Jaime G.
Well . . .
If you walk up to a musical theater fan, especially between the ages of 30 and 40, they might say that this musical changed their life. That the entire reason they became a singer or a dancer or a writer or a lawyer is because they were so inspired by this show.
Someone like that will definitely care that there's a 20th anniversary tour - which will be in San Diego from Jan. 10 to 15.
There are lots of feelings associated with this show because when it was first staged in 1996, "Rent" shook things up on Broadway. It's kind of like what's happening with "Hamilton" now - and have you met "Hamilton" fans? Also obsessed.
Loosely based on Pucinni's "La Boheme" opera, the musical follows a group of Bohemian artists dealing with AIDS, homosexuality, poverty, drug use and other issues. It spoke to young people in a way that felt personal and real. Plus, the original cast included the ridiculously talented Anthony Rapp, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs.
(It also had a tragic story after "Rent" creator Jonathan Larson died the night before the show's Off-Broadway premiere.)
But it's 20 years later and we have a whole new set of things to worry about. Some critics out there say the show doesn't hold up because it's too connected to 1990s music and references.
So back to your question: should you care?
If you've already seen "Rent" and you didn't absolutely love it, you shouldn't care. Aside from a young, enthusiastic cast, the show is the same.
But if you are one of those theater kids forever transformed by the message, or if you haven't seen it before, yes, definitely go check it out. Or if you're into history, and you want to see how people reacted to the AIDS crisis 20 years ago, it's also worth your time.
"Rent" isn't my favorite musical, but I'll probably go see it again. I do think it's pretty dated, but the message about artists trying to make a living - as recently highlighted by Oakland's Ghost Ship fire - is still relevant today.
How does a film festival work? What are good concerts for kids? Send me your events-related questions and they'll be answered each Thursday.