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School Of Theatre’s ‘Rent’ Challenges Authenticity In The Artist’s Struggle

Penn State’s School of Theatre will return with its latest musical production, “Rent,” opening on Saturday, November 18, in the Pavilion Theatre.

Set in New York City in the late 1980s, “Rent” showcases the story of a diverse group of artists pursuing passions against the harsh reality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Written by Jonathan Larson and based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La Bohème, the script won four Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Book in 1996, as well as the Pulitzer Prize in the same year. 

Telling the story of friends turned family amid the crumbling world around them, “Rent” features honesty in artistry as each member of the clan attempts to fulfill their life’s work while avoiding the sell-out nature of their respective industries. Measuring “a year in the life” of the beloved characters, the production articulates individual struggles on the path to success and authenticity challenged by the artificiality of the fault-finding world.

Brought to campus this season by director and choreographer Christine O’Grady Roberts, the classic story remains just as effective as it was in its debut. Highlighting the unique cultural space of Alphabet City, an East Village neighborhood in Manhattan home to distinct characters such as Angel, played by senior Kris Carrasco, and Roger, played by junior Owen Smith, the members of the cast are excited and energized to portray their roles onstage. 

“Twenty-five years later, a new generation of artists are looking for their place in the world,” dramaturg Sylvie Vanstory said. 

As the warmth of friendship is juxtaposed against the cold climate of tent cities just below the friends’ high-rise flat, the story finds new life at Penn State, marked by constant motion through the Pavillion Theatre much akin to the chaos of the time. With creative choreography and staging designed to fill up the intimate space, the audience can expect an immersive environment that encapsulates the close spirit of the story. 

Creating a wall of sound in iconic hits such as “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Bohème,” powerhouse vocals also command attention in tandem with a multi-story set piece swiftly moving across the space, audibly and visually playing with levels to allow dual scenery and the creation of New York City’s urban landscape. 

While remaining true to the classic script, modern elements also bring new life to the production with standout moments, including the representation of teacher Tom Collins, played by sophomore Jordan Frank. In a sea of bright, timely costumes, Collins emerges in Act Two wearing a jacket emblazoned with values such as “respect,” “beautiful,” and “peace,” prevalent in the original story yet still demanded today.

“The world looks very different now than it did in 1989, but that doesn’t diminish ‘Rent’s’ value at all,” Vanstory said. “People find joy within heartbreak, love amidst fear, and strength through vulnerability.”

School of Theatre’s “Rent” will premiere on November 18 and run through December 3 in the Pavilion Theatre. Tickets for evening performances are priced at $25 and student tickets can be purchased for $12.50. 

The musical production runs approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. 

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a junior majoring in marketing and psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 18-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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