RENT’s producers, Gus Murray and Lauren Peters, both passionate fans of the rock musical for decades, believe this message, highlighted in the famous lyric, “No day but today”, is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.
“The wonderful thing about RENT is that it is almost timeless,” Peters says. “When it was first written, during the HIV epidemic in New York in the 1990s, these people are alone, they're scared, they don't know what to do. They’re screaming out for help and they're doing it through their art.
“That’s what needs to happen now, in this coronavirus world, this post-pandemic time we’re going through.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic differs from the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the parallels of fear, loss, uncertainty and disconnection are profound. Murray says the lyric, “Connection, in an isolating age”, from the song What You Own, became a focal point for the show after a year of lockdown, loneliness and our yearning to connect with each other.
“And that's what the kids in RENT are doing,” Murray says. “I think it’s really joyful to watch that. It’s joyous and uplifting and hopeful and full of love. It's a great antidote to what we've all just been through.”
The history of RENT, and its visionary creator Jonathan Larson, is one of triumph and tragedy. Two months after opening at the tiny New York Theater Workshop in February 1996, it transferred to Broadway’s Nederlander Theater on a wave of sold-out houses and critical acclaim, with the New York Times’ exalting its “extraordinary spirit of hopeful defiance and humanity”.