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Tony Award®- and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Rock Opera Rent Will Rock Durham on Oct. 11-16

<em>Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour</em> will rock the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour will rock the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Carol Rosegg)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our two-part preview of Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour starts below. Part 1 is a general introduction to the show. Part 2, which we will publish tomorrow, is a wide-ranging interview with the show’s long-time musical supervisor, Tim Weil, who has worked on this rock opera from the very beginning. — RWM

The Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour, produced by Work Light Productions and restaged by Evan Ensign, based on the original direction byMichael Greif, opens tonight, and will play eight high-octane performances on Oct. 11-16 at the Durham Performing Arts Center’s as part of DPAC’s SunTrust Broadway Series The hit 1996 Off-Broadway and Broadway and 1998 West End musical by the late, great Jonathan Larson (1960-96) is based on Giacomo Puccini’s four-act 1896 Italian opera La bohème, which is set in the 1840s in the Paris’ Latin Quarter and portrays a group of young bohemians struggling to survive. The rock musical Rent is set in Alphabet City on New York City’s Lower East Side, circa 1996, when HIV/AIDS was decimating 20th century big-city bohemians.

The 2016 tour of Rent, once again choreographed by original choreographer Marlies Yearby, stars Danny Harris Kornfeld as avant-garde documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen and Kaleb Wells as Mark’s best friend and roommate, deeply depressed HIV-positive singer, songwriter, and guitarist Roger Davis. The show also stars Katie LaMark as Mark’s former girlfriend, the outrageously uninhibited bisexual performance artist Maureen Johnson, and Skyler Volpe as drug-addicted HIV-positive exotic dancer Mimi Marquez.

Their co-stars include Durham native Aaron Harrington as gay MIT-educated New York University philosophy professor with AIDS Tom Collins, who finally finds love (“I’ll Cover You”) with 19-year-old gay drag queen with AIDS Angel Dumott Schunard (David Merino; Jasmine Easler as Maureen’s current girlfriend, somewhat uptight African-American lesbian lawyer and political activist Joanne Jefferson; and Christian Thompson as Mark and Roger’s one-time running buddy and current landlord Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III, who becomes increasingly impatient when his former friends refuse to pay their rent.

Based on an original concept by playwright Billy Aronson and written by composer, lyricist, and playwright Jonathan Larson, with additional lyrics for “Santa Fe” and “La Vie Bohème/I Should Tell You” by Aronson, Rent is a late 20th-century American update of Puccini’s La bohème. But in Rent, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) takes the place of consumption (tuberculosis) as the killer of beleaguered artists trying to scratch out a meager living on the mean streets of Alphabet City in New York City’s bohemian East Village.

The 20th anniversary tour of <em>Rent</em> stars Danny Harris Kornfeld (left) as Mark Cohen and Kaleb Wells as Roger Davis (photo by Carol Rosegg)

The 20th anniversary tour of Rent stars Danny Harris Kornfeld (left) as Mark Cohen and Kaleb Wells as Roger Davis (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Jonathan Larson, who also wrote the 2001 Off-Broadway rock musical TICK, TICK … BOOM!, died tragically, from an aortic dissection, in the early morning hours of Jan. 25, 1996, the day that Rent made its Off-Broadway debut at the New York Theatre Workshop. Directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Marlies Yearby, the show played for 49 performances Off Broadway before closing on March 31, 1996. Yet Rent won three 1995-96 OBIE Awards: Special Citations for Jonathan Larson, Michael Greif, and The Acting Ensemble — plus the 1996 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical, the 1996 Drama League Award for Best Musical, and the 1996 Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical.

Rent made its Broadway debut on April 29, 1996, at the Nederlander Theatre, where it racked up 5,123 performances before closing on Sept. 7, 2008. Rent is currently the 11th-longest running show in the history of the Great White Way.

The original Broadway production of Rent starred Anthony Rapp as Mark, Adam Pascal as Roger, Daphne Rubin-Vega as Mimi, Jesse L. Martin as Tom, Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel, Idina Menzel as Maureen, Fredi Walker as Joanne, and Taye Diggs as Benny.

Rent received ten 1996 Tony Awards” nominations; and won the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Heredia). The show also won the 1996 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Music, Outstanding Lyrics, Outstanding Book, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Heredia), and Outstanding Orchestrations (Steve Skinner), plus the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The 2005 motion-picture version of Rent, directed by Chris Columbus, from a screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, starred Anthony Rapp as Mark, Adam Pascal as Roger, Rosario Dawson as Mimi, Jesse L. Martin as Tom, Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel, Idina Menzel as Maureen, Tracie Thoms as Joanne, and Taye Diggs as Benny.

The <em>Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour</em> stars Jasmine Easler (left) as Joanne Jefferson and Katie LaMark as Maureen Johnson (photo by Carol Rosegg)

The Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour stars Jasmine Easler (left) as Joanne Jefferson and Katie LaMark as Maureen Johnson (photo by Carol Rosegg)

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 9th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: (Note: You must subscribe to read this article); Oct. 5th Burlington, NC Times-Newsem> preview by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”:; Sept. 21st Raleigh, NC Raleigh preview by Taryn Oesch:; and Sept. 12th New York, NY preview by Adam Hetrick:

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents RENT: 20TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11-13, 8 p.m. Oct. 14, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 15, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.

TICKETS: $30-$135. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.


DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787),, or

Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587,, or

SHOW: and


THE TOUR:,, and








Rent (Off-Broadway and Broadway and 1998 West End musical): (Music Theatre International), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Jonathan Larson (White Plains, NY-born composer, lyricist, and playwright, 1960-96): (unofficial site by Chris Matthias), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (Denver Center for the Performing Arts).

Rent (2005 film): (official website), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

Categorised in: Features, Lead Story, Theatre Feature