The Missoula Community Theatre rocks the New Year with the R-rated rock opera RENT, coming to the stage at MCT Center for the Performing Arts Jan. 18-28, 2024.
RENT first debuted off Broadway in 1996, and was authored by a little-known writer, Jonathan Larson. A gritty adaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème, RENT portrays New York City in the 1990s during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Since that first performance, it has been produced in more than 40 countries and translated into 25 languages.
Puccini, an Italian living in Italy, set La Bohème in Paris during the tuberculosis epidemic (commonly called ‘consumption’) in the 1800s. Jonathan Larson, an American who lived in New York, set RENT in New York’s Alphabet City in the East Village during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 1990s. Both stories are of people living unconventionally, struggling financially and desperate to embrace life fully, even in the midst of sickness and a tragic love story. Such a powerful narrative begs for a remarkable score, for which RENT won four Tony Awards, including for Best Musical and Best Musical Score. Its author also won a Pulitzer.
This story of “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll,” recommended for audience members 17 and older, has some very powerful and positive messages about living for today and measuring life in love (“Seasons of Love”), but the darker shadows of the AIDS epidemic, drug addiction, and the gentrification of Alphabet City loom over this group of young artists as they struggle to survive.
Real-life tragedy struck the night before the off-Broadway debut of RENT, when Larson died unexpectedly from an aortic dissection, or tear in the inner layer of the aorta, at age 35. According to Music Theatre International, before RENT there was Tick, Tick … Boom!, an autobiographical musical by Larson about a composer and the sacrifices that he made to achieve his big break in theatre. In 2021, a film version of Tick, Tick … Boom! was directed by Lin Manuel-Miranda.
Director Joseph Martinez and co-director Kera Rivera (who is also in the cast) have embraced RENT, and say it’s built a sense of camaraderie and excitement among the cast, most of whom are in their 20s and were not familiar with New York in the 1990s.
“A number of these cast members are new to MCT and some new to each other,” Martinez noted. “They all know they are doing something extremely special together.”
“I was surprised to realize most of the cast weren’t that familiar with the story,” he added. “I told them the Broadway production of RENT changed the way people saw theatre, and really heard theatre. And with bringing up the societal issues of the time … it’s like the Hamilton of today, and how it makes people feel about the theatre experience.”
Producing the show is a heavy lift for Missoula Community Theatre, vocally, with its 500-page score.
“A regular musical theatre score might be 200 pages, with breaks in-between songs for dialogue,” Martinez said. “It’s strenuous for the actors, but they are doing great.” He added that a six-piece band plays the score live on stage.
RENT is sponsored by the Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center and TrailWest Bank. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 19-28, with a special preview performances Jan. 18.
Tickets are on sale now at www.MCTinc.org or by calling the box office at 406-728-7529, noon-5 p.m. weekdays. A content advisory about this R-rated production is on MCT’s website.