Maybe you were in elementary school in the 1990s, as I was, when Rent was changing the history of musical theater and winning a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize. Maybe you’ve heard “Seasons of Love” thousands of times, but never seen the show that made it famous. If that’s you, stop what you’re doing, figure out childcare and buy tickets to Rent at Portland Center Stage, through July 10. If you’re already familiar with Rent, you don’t need me to tell you to get tickets. You’re already there.
Rent is a rock musical by Jonathan Larson, about young artists struggling to make it in New York during the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Based loosely on the opera La Bohème, it has inspired many artists since, including Lin-Manuel Miranda. If you love Hamilton, you’ll see Larson’s fingerprints all over it after watching Rent. Tragically, Larson died suddenly the night before the off-Broadway preview, making the line “one song to leave behind,” feel terribly prophetic.
Theater companies need a heap of talent for a successful performance of Larson’s Rent, and the cast of Portland Center Stage once again exceeds expectations. I couldn’t choose a favorite performer; when Delphon Curtis Jr. sang “I’ll Cover You — Reprise,” it was them, when Kailey Rhodes belted out “Take Me or Leave Me,” it was her, and whenever Nyla Sostre sang anything she was the hands down favorite of the night. When you hear Aléa Lorén Johnson aka Church Girl sing, you’ll know that every single role in Portland Center Stages’s Rent is played by an actor with superstar talent.
Parents should know the show is sexy. Mature teens will be able to handle it, but they probably won’t want to sit with you. Other mature themes include drug use, violence and suicide. But if you think your teen is ready for the explicit content, it’s a moving show to see, especially during Pride month. The official age recommendation is 13+.
As usual, Portland Center Stage has chosen the perfect show for this moment. In the same way that Gem of the Ocean was such a timely choice this season, Rent is exactly the show we need during a pandemic. Cry like a baby for Angel, yes, but also cry for all you’ve lost the past few years. I know I did. When you hear the line, “Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?” you’ll feel seen. Maybe bring a spare mask. You’re likely to soak the first one.
If you love Rent, you’ll want to see the first show of next season at Portland Center Stage: tick, tick … BOOM!, the semi-autobiographical musical also by Johnathan Larson. In fact, if it’s possible with your budget, splurge on a season ticket pass. You’ll have date night planned for a year with one purchase. There are so many things to love about Portland Center Stage, from the beautiful and intimate theater space, thoughtfully chosen performances, and talented cast and crew members from all over the country, down to the most informative and interesting programs I’ve seen at any venue. If the cost of childcare is making you hesitate, find a friend to swap tickets and childcare with. Split the cost of the season pass, draw straws for the shows, and take turns watching the kids. It’s worth the effort, I promise.
If you’d love to see Rent, but the cost of tickets ($25-$105) feels out of reach for your family, check out Portland Center Stage’s ticket specials, including “pay what you will” nights (June 12 and 22), $5 Arts for All tickets, free tickets through Multnomah County Library’s My Discovery Pass and more. The show will be sign interpreted on June 9 and open captioned on June 11, and assistive listening devices and sensory kits are available for all performances.
Buy tickets here. There are five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred reasons to do so.