Jonathan Larson’s 1996 musical can hardly be called current anymore. Rent—based on Puccini’s La Bohéme but given a rock score and set among drug-addicted, HIV-positive artists in New York's East Village—was a flat-out sensation when it first opened. The musical was the cover story on Newsweek, and the production won the Tony Award for "Best Musical" plus the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Not to mention the legion of devoted fans.
But it’s been 13 years, and the show no longer creates excitement like it once did. The East Village it portrays, seedy and full of struggling artists, was gentrified out of existence. The 2005 film version flopped, and the Broadway production finally closed in 2008 (though not before reaching seventh on the list of longest Broadway runs ever). The show risks becoming one more example of misplaced '90s nostalgia.
So how are producers selling the new tour coming to the Oriental Theatre? They’re giving it the Hello, Dolly! treatment. That means original cast members Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal are touring in the roles they made famous 13 years ago, just like Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! or Yul Brynner in The King And I. Of course, these parts are completely dependent on youth and energy, and the former-twentysomething unknowns playing struggling youngsters have reached their late-30s. Will the actors even be believable in those parts? History indicates no: The movie was widely reviled for featuring the original cast members, who are now a decade too old for those roles.
Still, despite having lost its cultural cachet, the show still has its fan base. And this is probably the best anyone's going to get as far as reviving the magic that sold audiences on the show the first time around.