Viva La Vie Boheme!

Viva La Vie Boheme!

For every generation of theater kids, there is the musical. Not “a” musical, “the” musical, the one that defines who they are, what they believe, where they want to go — and the world they hope they can fix when they get there.

At the end of the 1960s, it was “Hair.” In the 1970s, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell,” and in the 1980s, “Les Miserables.”

And in the 1990s? “Rent.”

“[Jonathan] Larson has provided a story line and ambitious breadth of technique miles away from ‘Hair,’ with its funky, loosely plotted patchwork of countercultural ditties and ballads,” Ben Brantley wrote in a glowing New York Times review when “Rent” opened at the New York Theatre Workshop in February of 1996. “But both works, in a way, are generational anthems, not so much of protest, finally, but of youthful exuberance, even (or especially) when the youth in question is imperiled.”

Indeed, “Rent” was in many ways like nothing that had gone before it — although Lin-Manuel Miranda says it influenced him to create two of the definitive musicals of the 21st century, “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.”

“…This show directly addresses the idea of being cut off from feelings by fear,” Brantley wrote, adding “this is definitely not a problem for Mr. Larson. Indeed, one forgives the show’s intermittent lapses into awkwardness or cliche because of its overwhelming emotional sincerity. And when the whole ensemble stands at the edge of the stage, singing fervently about the ways of measuring borrowed time, the heart both breaks and soars.”

At the heart of “Rent” was the AIDS epidemic that swept across the United States and the world in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Larson’s ‘Rent’ attempts to break the societal barriers that have prevented individuals from fully understanding HIV and those who are affected by it,” wrote Eduardo Albornoz for HIV World News on March 27, 2016. “He does so by establishing a diverse range of characters living with HIV, bringing to light the fact that homosexual men are far from being the only ones susceptible to AIDS. These characters include lesbian, gay, transgender, heterosexual, erotic dancers, and drug addicted individuals. They all represent the American culture by portraying a group of misfits amidst a mainstream society that is obsessed with … commercialism and money.

“The main message of the musical finds that the most important things in life are acceptance and love,” Albornoz adds. “Another one of Larson’s intentions was to foster support and awareness toward the fight against AIDS, as well as making people realize: ‘It’s not how long you’re here, but what you do while you’re here.’”

Now, two decades have passed, and more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today. And the young actors on “Rent’s” 20th anniversary tour — which started in 2016 — were preschoolers — or younger — when an aortic aneurysm killed Larson on Jan. 25, 1996, the night before the show opened Off-Broadway.

“My mom is a huge Renthead. She doesn’t really like a whole lot of musicals, but ‘Rent’ was one that’s really her style, so I grew up with it,” says Kaleb Wells, who plays aspiring songwriter Roger Davis in the production stopping March 2-4 at the Walton Arts Center. “We would sing ‘Seasons of Love.’ I knew it as the ‘Numbers Song,’” he told Playbill. “It was a family car-ride album that we would listen to. It’s three hours of music. That was my first introduction to it.”

Growing up in New Hampshire, Wells started singing when he was 6 — that would be about two years into “Rent’s” 5,123-show Broadway run — took piano lessons and “had to constantly be making noise,” he says from a tour stop in frigid South Dakota. “When I went to college, I focused on studying acting — which nobody had ever really taught me — and I used both of those skills to get work in this industry.” As much as he loves performing, he says, he’s also the manager of his own business. “You’ve got to create a brand for yourself, be seen, have people remember you. It’s not easy. Really, it’s about being in the right spot at the right time — and you can’t plan for that. You just have to keep showing up as prepared as you can be, and pretty soon there will be a job …”

Wells has been with the anniversary tour since August of 2016 and is nearing the end of his contract. Part of him, he says, is excited to see what’s next. And part of him knows he’ll carry this show with him forever.

“The heart of the show is really about life and living,” he says. “I think that’s why everyone can connect with it in their own way. It’s about living with your friends and being family and living every day as if it’s your last — not in an ‘avoid responsibility’ way but by appreciating every day, every moment, appreciating everything. There is always something to appreciate.”



WHEN — 8 p.m. March 2; 2 & 8 p.m. March 3; 2 & 7:30 p.m. March 4

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $36 & up

INFO — 443-5600

FYI — “Rent” includes adult language and adult situations. The movie version was rated PG-13.


Ticket Lottery

Set For ‘Rent’

A lottery before each performance of “Rent” will offer a limited number of $23 tickets.

Two and a half hours before each performance, lottery entrants may visit the McBride Studio and print their name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) they are requesting on a card provided by Walton Arts Center staff.

Two hours before curtain time, names will be drawn at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $23 each. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets. Limit one entry per person and two tickets per winner. Tickets are subject to availability.

The tradition of discounted tickets began in 1996 in New York when the show moved to Broadway. The producers of the show are committed to continuing the tradition of offering discounted orchestra seats in each city where the show will play.

Categories: Entertainment, Theater