RENT, the musical phenomenon credited with helping to reinvent the American musical genre in the 1990s, is taking the stage as The Court Theatre’s summer musical this November.
Described as “the best show in years, if not decades” (Variety) when it opened in 1996, RENT has since garnered legions of avid fans worldwide known as RENT-heads. This ground-breaking production follows a group of artists struggling and striving to follow their dreams in New York City against a backdrop of poverty, looming gentrification and the AIDS crisis of the 1990s.
A lot has changed in the world since the play was written - thankfully AIDS is no longer the fearful spectre it was then - but what RENT does best is to capture the things that endure, especially the urgency and energy of living life to the fullest, every day, despite (or because of) that life being torn apart at the seams.
Celebrating love and friendship that is brave in the face of danger, loving when confronted by hate and hopeful against all odds, RENT is a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony award winner. RENT was inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème but transplanted to a modern setting with characters whose experiences reflected those of friends of its young writer, Jonathan Larson.
RENT was a late addition to The Court Theatre’s Ryman Healthcare 2022 season. As Covid affected the theatre’s programming for The Court’s third year in a row, The Court decided in May to add RENT - itself previously postponed from 2020 due to Covid - as its summer musical. Director Lara Macgregor was thrilled with the decision. “Surely there’s no better time in our post-Covid history to celebrate actors, creativity and lifelong friendships” she says.
There was significant work already done in preparation for this much-anticipated show when it was cancelled in 2020 and returning to deliver on their original vision alongside Macgregor are creatives; Richard Marrett (Musical Director), Mark McEntyre (Set Designer), Tina Hutchison-Thomas (Costume Designer) and Shane Anthony (Movement Director).
Having lived and worked as an actor in New York in the 1990s, Macgregor has experienced first-hand the vitality and vibrancy that made it such a hub of creativity, and New York’s East Village itself is almost a living character in this production. This was a place where punk, performance art and drag performance grew and flourished, making it a vital social environment as much as a physical one.
That environment is brought to life in McEntyre’s set, inspired in large part by the iconic nightclub CBGBs. Theatre-goers will experience first-hand the multi-layered vibrancy, rawness and emotion of this unique time and place. A world that moves through multiple spaces, as well as a range of seasons, will be created on and around The Court’s stage.
RENT features an ensemble cast of both New Zealand and Australian actors, some of whom are making their Court Theatre debut. They will be performing many high-energy musical numbers, including revered hits “Seasons of Love”, “Take Me or Leave Me” and “La Vie Bohème”, which make RENT one of the most uplifting and beloved musicals ever.
Marrett is charged with helping the cast bring that energy to life in song and is delighted that another chance “to perform RENT, which has become a modern classic, on The Court stage with a cast of extraordinary vocalists and a band of outstanding rock musicians” was made possible.
The magic of RENT is made more poignant in that the life of its young writer, Jonathan Larson, was cut unexpectedly short. “What a privilege to carry the torch for Jonathan Larson who, at 36, after seven hard years of developing RENT, passed away the night before it saw an audience” Macgregor says. “He never got to bask in its huge success, it’s 11-year run on Broadway, his Pulitzer Prize or his Tony Award. We have a remarkable opportunity to continue his legacy and bring the unprecedented energy that is RENT to Christchurch.”
RENT also introduced the concept of ‘RUSH’ tickets, which are now a well-known feature of Broadway and The West End. To honour the spirit of RENT, The Court Theatre will offer a very limited number of Rush tickets for $20 - priced as they were in 1996 - for Box Office only sale in advance of each performance.
“RENT endures in the grand tradition of rock musicals: its heart is bigger than its problems; its music moves under your skin and moves you.” The Guardian, 2021