The well-known and much-loved rock musical “Rent” is coming to Eisenhower Auditorium on April 6. Originally debuting in 1996, the production is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a tour that includes one of Penn State’s own musical theater graduates, Christian Thompson.
Thompson plays the role of Benny, a landlord who Thompson calls “as close to an antagonist as you get in the show.” The musical revolves around seven struggling artists and their lives over the course of a year, as they face a host of still-relevant social issues. One of a very small number of musicals to win both a Tony for Best Musical and a Pulitzer for Drama, “Rent” continues to reign in the world of musical theater, making it popular with any student of the arts. The show’s prior successes, Thompson said, came into play when this current cast began preparations.
“This is an established show, so we already knew most of the songs, just because we sang them when we were younger,” he said. “But (I’m) also ... doing a lot of research on the time and the AIDS epidemic, what it was like to live in a time when people had no idea what was going on, why people were dying just out of nowhere and having no real help from the government for a really long time. You get that feeling of, it’s you against the world, trying to find a community you can hold on to in times like that.”
It’s the cast’s goal to transfer these emotions to the audience.
“I really hope audiences walk away with a reminder of everyone’s humanity, of the fact that we are all human beings trying to figure out this crazy ride called life. I think that’s something important we need to remind ourselves, especially in today’s climate,” Thompson said.
“Rent” is the perfect vehicle for this reminder, he agreed. “There’s a reason it’s been around for 20 years and there’s a real chance to have a moving and lasting experience in the theater,” he said.
Despite the serious issues the show addresses, there’s still moments of fun to be had. Thompson’s favorite scene is one such moment.
“I would say for right now, my favorite is actually the opening. It’s the song ‘Rent,’ ” he said. “Our musical director gives a really loud count off ... and the score starts up and everything becomes chaotic and crazy, and that’s when we start, and that, to me, is like being shot out of a cannon, and it’s really exciting.”
For Centre County residents considering attending, Thompson promises you won’t be disappointed. “There’s definitely an electricity in the building every time we take the stage,” he said, and it all stems from the passion and inspirations shared by the cast and crew alike.
“I think there’s always the feeling of needing to preserve the legacy of the late Jonathan Larson. This was his passion piece, and he did not give up on it, so we don’t feel like we can either. We’re working with the original creative team, who are still so passionate after 20 years. I think we’re also inspired by the people we meet and the people who tell us stories about watching their friends and loved ones pass away, or the high schoolers that have just found ‘Rent’ and this is the first time they’re seeing a live stage show and they’re so inspired and they want to be actors and activists. Those are the people who keep you going.”
IF YOU GO
- What: “Rent”
- When: 7:30 p.m. April 6
- Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park
- Info: www.cpa.psu.edu