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Edgy Broadway musical "Rent" hits Salt Lake City

May 31, 2011
By David Self Newlin
Courtesy of ksl.com

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One of the longest-running, most beloved and most controversial musicals in the history of Broadway is coming to the Pioneer Theatre for a two-week run, starting June 10.

"The content may have some controversial, crazy things, but at the end of the day it's about a family." -- Nik Walker

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

"Rent", a rock opera based on Puccini's "La Boheme," confronts difficult themes and social problems frankly and directly - things like AIDS, drug abuse and addiction, poverty, homophobia and homosexuality.

However, Nik Walker, who plays anarchist philosopher Tom Collins, said that ultimately these themes are not all the show is about.

"I think [playgoers are] surprised at how much of a family show it is. The content may have some controversial, crazy things, but at the end of the day it's about a family," he said, referring to the seven friends around which the plot centers.

"You get a lot more out of it than you think you're going to," said Fabio Monteiro, who plays the musician, former addict and AIDS victim, Roger Davis, one of the most important roles in the show.

"It's a really beautiful, moving story and you can't really help but get sucked in," Monteiro said.

"Rent" was written in the early nineties by Jonathan Larson, who died of a heart condition shortly before the play's official launch and subsequent rise to Broadway immortality. The show ultimately ran on Broadway from 1996 to 2008, and has been toured around the country several times.

The story focuses on "trials and tribulations of dealing with the AIDS epidemic and love and relationships," according to Halle Morse, who has the role of Mimi Marquez, an exotic dancer and addict.

"[Mimi] is very spirited. She's full of love," Morse said. "It's difficult to play someone who is very, very ill and fighting for their life." This is Morse's first time playing the role.

Monteiro, who is also taking on this role for the first time, said that Roger Davis is "kind of an interesting character to play because [he is] very different than myself. So it's definitely a challenge."

Karen Azenberg, director and choreographer of this production, has had a long history with the play, though this is her first time directing it.

"[Larson] and I were friends in New York in the early 1990s," Azenberg said. "I was around when he was writing this and it was a very, very exciting time. I was really jealous of him and the show because it was so wonderful.

Azenberg said that her take on the show will have more dancing and movement than the original production.

"I think [Larson would be intrigued by what I've done with the piece because it is an element that we talked about a lot."

Azenberg said that "Rent" is "a really, really wonderful story of love and life and appreciating every day for what it is and living life to the fullest."

The show will run until June 25.

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