by: Meaghan McInerny
How different is life today than it was in 1996? Watching “RENT” at Phoenix Theatre on Friday night I was struck by just how much our daily lives have changed in less than two decades.
The musical “RENT” – for those who aren’t familiar with it – is a modern-day re-telling of the classic opera “La Boheme.” It tells the story of a group of starving artists living as squatters in New York’s Lower East Side. In 1996, when the musical premiered, there was no such thing as Facebook, cell phones were rare (and reserved for the elite) and people still used answering machines to screen calls.
I’ve always loved “RENT” but I wondered, going into the show, if it would still resonate with audiences. After all, in 2013, we all have access to the internet and cell phones are omnipresent. Even the homeless can go online at libraries and might own their own cell phone.. As a society, we no longer know what it is to be disconnected from the rest of the world. We are rarely alone with only ourselves and our shortcomings for company.
In 2013, AIDS is no longer a guaranteed death sentence. In 1996, drug therapies like AZT were just becoming available to the general public. Despite that, there was still the overwhelming feeling that if you were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS that you were living on borrowed time. Hence, the recurring theme to “forget regret” because there’s “no day but today.” Though the show isn’t intrinsically melodramatic, it deals with highly emotionally, socially and politically charged issues.
With all that it mind, the bar was set pretty high for Phoenix Theatre to please me as an audience member. My degree is in Theatre Arts and I’ve seen professional productions of the show before. Not everyone might have the same expectations (or, perhaps, hopes) that I had and for the uninitiated, this show should please.