Living 'La Vie Boheme'

There are likely many audience members for the tour of the musical Rent who never saw New York's East Village before it was gentrified, do not recall the AIDS crisis before treatments improved and do not understand why an amateur filmmaker would use film instead of a digital camera.

But the show's cast and crew say the passage of 12 years hasn't stopped patrons, particularly young ones, from embracing the show's snapshot of bohemian life in the early 1990s.


"There are kids who were little children or babies when Rent opened," Broadway producer Jeffrey Seller said. "It speaks to them, in my opinion, because people who feel outside get to come inside. Many young people struggle with the concept of how to pursue their dreams without selling out. ... It's about finding an alternate family that lets you in and accepts you for who you are."

Rent's rock 'n' roll take on Puccini's opera La Boheme - retold with struggling artists, drug addicts, drag queens and AIDS patients in a gritty New York neighborhood - will be at the Hippodrome Theatre tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday.


Tickets for row A of the orchestra will be available on a first-come, first-served basis two hours before the show at the Hippodrome box office for $20 cash. Inexpensive same-day seats have been a tradition since the show opened on Broadway as a way to make Rent accessible to more people.

A huge hit when it opened in New York in 1996, Rent won the Pulitzer Prize and four Tony Awards and has become the seventh-longest-running show on Broadway.

The show's creator, Jonathan Larson, drew on real people who lived and often struggled in the East Village, including the gay and lesbian community, the homeless, activists and artists. The 35-year-old writer died of an aortic aneurysm the night before the show opened, but Rent went on to attract young, passionate audiences for more than a decade.

Now the Broadway production is set to close June 1. The national tour also concludes in June, Seller said, but plans are under way for another tour to begin in January 2009 with some of the original Broadway cast members.

The current tour features Heinz Winckler, the 2002 winner of South African Idol and a World Idol competitor, as HIV-positive musician Roger.

Winckler said his competition experience led to several auditions in the United States, but he spent two years performing and recording with his own band in South Africa before he was asked to come back and join the tour of Rent.

He said the rock 'n' roll style of Rent makes it an easier transition for him to perform in his first musical, and he has learned a lot about acting on the job. He said he tries to draw from the previous performers, but "I also bring my own interpretation to it."

He also said he can relate to Roger's artistic struggle, if not his circumstances: "I do have this thing inside of me. ... I haven't written that one song that has been a hit on my own."


Another Idol contestant, Anwar Robinson, who was a finalist in the fourth season of American Idol, plays Tom Collins. Winckler said the Idol/Broadway connection is a trend that "makes total sense" because the shows get publicity and the singers can do the roles well.

Jed Resnick, a New York City native, was 14 when he first saw Rent as part of a summer program. He said, "I fell in love right away. ... The music was what I was listening to on my radio."

Now 23 years old and a recent graduate of Brown University, he is playing the role of Mark. He said he still sees young people reacting enthusiastically.

"Even though they may not remember the East Village as it was, even though AIDS is a very different disorder than it was ... the characters are real, they are dealing with real emotions."

Resnick added: "I think Rent, like all great works, is specific to its time and place, but the emotional content, the themes that are explored, are so universal: ... taking care of your friends, fighting for what you believe in, falling in love despite the hardships and living each day to its fullest."

Performances of "Rent" are at 8 p.m. tomorrow, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St. Information and tickets are available at or through Ticketmaster at 410-547-7328. Same-day $20 tickets are limited to two per person.