By   Iride Aparicio

Photos by: Carol Rosegg

SAN FRANCISCO, CA— Returning to San Francisco for a two-week engagement, the 20th Anniversary Tour, of RENT the musical, opened with an standing ovation.

While for many in the audience, this was the first time they saw the musical and  were unable to compare this version with its previous versions,  those, who could make the comparisons on its opening night, considered its 20th Anniversary Production a mixture of great performances from some actors, not so great performances from others,  that this show needed feeling, and that it could have been much better with more rehearsal.  

Most viewers know that RENT’s story is based on the Libretto written by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica for PUCCINI’s Opera LA BOHEME,  but if we compare the stories, the only relation the rocks’s musical story has with the story of  opera  are the six notes that Roger Davis (KALEB WELLS) representing a composer, plays in his guitar, over and over again telling his friends that those are the first notes of a new song that he is composing,  ( In reality, the notes are the beginning six notes in PUCCINI’s Musetta’s Waltz. )

KALEB WELLS playing the principal  role of Roger in RENT

Written in l996 by JONATHAN LARSON, a little known composer, the original rock musical he called RENT, changed the landscape of American theatre. One reason why the work really impacted the audience is that while three of the the characters in    RENT  are HIV Positive, one dies from AIDS, and we ought to remember that in l996 having AIDS was the same as having a death sentence. 

In the opinion of many, however, LARSON’s story is not the story of PUCCINI’s LA BOHEME but his own story. If one compares the principal characters in the rock musical with the principal characters in the opera it becomes obvious that they are not even similar.  In LA BOHEME,  the character of Mimi (who has the same name in both RENT and the opera) is a shy introvert girl. A seamstress who embroiders flowers. Because she suffers from tuberculosis, her hands are always cold, she looks feeble, and she is very shy.  The Mimi in RENT, is a beautiful exotic dancer who displays a body to die for. According to the story, in RENT, she is HIV positive, but being a dancer, she is an extroverted person who sings in a pleasant voice, dances,  moves with energy, curses and acts boisterously most of the time. Mimi in RENT acts too alive to inspire any pity. And in this version, her vulgar behavior made it even more difficult for the audience to understand what Roger saw in her.

SKYLER VOlPE as Mimi in the 20th year anniversary of RENT

In RENT, LARSON transported the story from Paris (in the Opera) to New York and made the French bohemians New Yorker artists living in a crowded loft with no heat. They are: Mark (DANNY HARRIS KRONFIELD), who is a cameraman in the Rock musical, Tom Collins  (AARON HARRINGTON) a gay man. Angel Schunard, (DAVID MERINO) a talented dancer and singer HIV positive Aaron's partner. Other principals in the show, but not living in the loft are  Lesbians, Joanne Jefferson, (JASMINE EASLER) the owner of a night club and Maureen Johnson (KATIE LAMARK) a singer/dancer in the night club of her partner.

RENT premiere off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop on February 13, l996, and Transfered to Broadway on April 29 of the same year where it won a Tony Award® for Best Musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama.



The story of RENT is not a  happy story. Both our principal characters have AIDS, (at the time when there was not a cure for it) so we know that eventually these happy and talented artists will die. One of them do. All the artists represented on the musical are poor. Those who share the loft,  have no heat, and everybody familiar with the temperatures in the New York Winters can easily understand what that means. Lacking money, they  unable to pay rent, until next year. Yet singing their dialogue instead of speaking it  (like an opera) in a Rock beat and their constant dancing makes the show entertaining, instead of a tragic drama.  .

The difference this time, is that when in the original RENT the same story was represente with feeling, some of the actors in this cast sang the lyrics of the songs well, one could tell that they were just singing the lyrics, but their heart was not in it.

One of those actors was Mimi (VOLPE)  who sings with a beautiful tone of voice, and vocalized her lyrics  perfectly, but who on opening night, did not manage to act her role of  Mimi  convincingly. Her Mimi came to the audience as, too harsh and too vulgar.  Her  version of “Light a Candle”  needed feeling. Her exotic dancing, lacked sensuality.

The result was, that  KALEB WELLS, who acted his role realistically,with a lot of passion and sang well, could not convince the audience on that night, of his love for this woman (Mimi), because thei performances of the two principal actors was unbalanced.

In contrast,  the romance of  Tom Collin (HARRINGTON) Who sang with a lot of feeling in a dark tone of voice and  Angel Schunard (MERINO) who danced and sang with lots of energy, looked real.  Collin version of “I’ll will cover you” was delivered with so much feeling, that brought tears to our eyes. Beautiful also in this particular production Angel’s farewel.

The other romance in the musical, the one of Joanne (EASLER) and Kathy(LAMARK) as a romance, was well presented but in her dancing that night, LAMARK needed more rehearsal.


While in opening night   RENT may have  needed more  feeling in some of the individual  performances its story representing  a group of young talented and impoverish New York artists trying to survive the looming specter of AIDS still managed to touch our hearts.

RENT will be presented at the SHN GOLDEN GATE THEATRE until February 19, 2017. For tickets you can go online to www.shnsf.com or call 888-746-1799.