On its 20th anniversary tour, Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical, Rent, is making an appearance at Seattle’s Paramount Theater this week — and it’s worth seeing. The music, the singing, the direction and choreography — none will disappoint. The set, too, is something to behold, made up of fire escapes, old bikes, Christmas lights, folding chairs and scaffolding. But if none of that draws you in, the characters will. Rent tells the tale of seven young New Yorkers struggling to pay rent, follow their dreams, live with disease, overcome addiction and find love.
With homelessness, addiction, class, sexual orientation and poverty cycling through the news, it’s hard to find a topic in Rent that doesn’t feel relevant to our time.
For those unfamiliar with the story: Roger is a musician searching to write “one last song” while he battles AIDS; his roommate, Mark, is an aspiring documentary filmmaker resisting the financial temptation that comes with selling out. Mimi is a club dancer and drug addict who pulls at Roger’s heartstrings; Angel is a drag queen who uplifts everyone she meets, especially her love interest, Collins. When Benny, Mark and Roger’s former-roommate-turned-landlord threatens eviction, no one in the neighborhood is left untouched by the drama that ensues.
Parents should know
While the setting is specific, the themes are timeless — and timely. With homelessness, addiction, class, sexual orientation and poverty cycling through the news, it’s hard to find a topic in Rent that doesn’t feel relevant to our time. Rent’s subject matter touches on important points of discussion for teens, such as ambition, sex, relationships, AIDS, drugs and more.
On a smaller scale, the actors cuss (including a few f-bombs), gyrate (among other sexually implicative choreography) and one briefly moons the crowd (eliciting some big laughs). Still, the characters are likeable and stick together, providing a positive example of friendship that leaves audience members feeling hopeful.
How does Tom and Angel’s unconditionally loving relationship compare with Maureen and Joanne’s more argumentative one? How did your teen feel when Mark got a “sell-out” job (remember to think back to when he sang “What You Own”)? How did Mimi’s addiction affect her relationship with Roger? Did the musical change they way your teen thinks about class, poverty and homelessness? And on a lighter note: What was your teen’s favorite song?
Long story short
Rent is gritty and uplifting, with a rocking soundtrack to boot (I was singing “No day but today…” to myself all the way home). You’ll laugh when Maureen (played by Katie LaMark) sings “Over the Moon,” revel in Roger’s (Kaleb Wells’) high notes and get misty-eyed in the second act when Collins (Aaron Harrington) sings “I’ll Cover You.”
Don’t be surprised if your teen has questions after the show — but don’t let that dissuade you from going. Rent has contains teachable themes and a universal message in which love ultimately prevails. Like Hamilton, Rent is sure to instill a love of musical theater in any teen who attends.
Be prepared for a standing ovation by the end — and to purchase the soundtrack, too.
If you go…
Where and when: The Paramount Theater, Feb. 22–23 at 7:30 p.m.; 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26.
Tickets: Start at $35