INDIANAPOLIS — I hesitate in calling "Rent" a timepiece or a video clip from 1990s. The musical is a sense of community, a thought that can last through decades.
Amid the up-and-down emotions and adversity of young men and women experiencing the trauma of AIDS, most audience members attending "Rent" recognize that the true tragedy behind this musical was the loss of promising playwright Jonathan Larson.
The reason to mention this is that "Rent," which is a "La Boheme" for the 1990s, can occasionally seem dated and distant in its look back at a bohemian New York street life that may still exist. But the overarching theme of community can sometimes be overshadowed by its focus on a tragic disease.
And I'm not opposed to making the same comparison to Puccini's "La Boheme," where main character Mimi dies of a consuming illness, likely tuberculosis. "La Boheme" manages to stay relevant through new translations, as with the 2001 movie "Moulin Rouge." Larson had that innovative touch for a moment, but it would have been exciting to see his next step on the stage.
Larson, 35, died Jan. 25, 1996, the day before the first Off-Broadway preview of "Rent." Based on his living in a Lower Manhattan apartment, "Rent" earned three posthumous Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Larson.
"Rent," celebrating its 20th anniversary, is playing through June 17 at Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis.
Busy with characters — 14 performers show up on stage to open the all-singing show — the first act is packed with characterizations presented with the brevity of MTV video clips. Recognizing the expansive cast, the Playbill program offers a "who's who."
Most of the story — roommates face eviction, a protest develops and these streetwise nomads come together to support one another — is told through the eyes/lens of budding documentarian Mark Cohen, played by a credible Logan Marks.
Audiences might feel closest to characters that encapsulate a Bohemian danger.
Cohen's ex-girlfriend, now lesbian, is the first sign of a truly unique personality as actress Lyndie Moe explodes with a often-hilarious poem aimed at the apartment landlords. Also, Javon King as the ill-fated Angel provides lively compassion.
As AIDS, homelessness and day-to-day struggles take a toll on this group, they are drawn together.
The show's most popular tune, "Seasons of Love," (You know "525,600 minutes," the one sung at the Tonys by the Parkland high school drama kids), sets the theme for the second act. Be there at the start of the act or you'll miss the 3-minute song.
So rather than calling "Rent" a timepiece, I prefer to view it as a reminder of the collectiveness of friends. Tragedy brings us together but "Rent" is an in-your-face prompting of Larson's ability to find the humanity of community.
If you go
What: "Rent" 20th Anniversary Tour, the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical
When: Through June 17
Where: Clowes Memorial Hall, 4602 Sunset Avenue, Indianapolis