Theatre and Dance at Wayne launches its 2022-23 theatre season with the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Jonathan Larson rock musical “Rent,” which runs Sept. 23 to Oct. 2 at the Hilberry Theater, 4743 Cass Ave. in Detroit.
Set in 1989 in New York City’s East Village during the first wave of the AIDS crisis, “Rent” is about falling in love, finding one’s voice and living for today, as a group of diverse artists and friends struggle to follow their dreams.
The music includes the title song “Rent,” “One Song Glory,” “Light My Candle,” “Tango Maureen,” “Another Day,” “Santa Fe,” “I Should Tell You,” and the memorable “Seasons of Love.”
Director Michael Barnes said “Rent,” with its amazing music, has developed a large following.
“In many ways, it was the first rock opera that was written about Generation X but it has continued to reverberate with young people because all the characters are 20-somethings,” he said. “The music would not sound out-of-place on popular radio today.”
Barnes said that while the show is popular with current day college students, it was written about his generation.
“I was the age range of these characters during the time period of the play,” he said. “These experiences were a part of my life – both good and bad.”
Barnes said directing “Rent” has been cathartic as he remembers events from his past and revisits memories.
“I think it is impossible to not notice the similarities of the HIV epidemic that is central to the storyline of ‘Rent’ and what we have all recently experienced with COVID-19 and now monkeypox,” he said. “I hope that the audience connects to the characters’ choices to cherish life and embrace loving and caring for one another even when things look dark.”
Barnes said that live theatre provides a unique experience for its audiences and an emotional connection that cannot be replicated through film or television.
“The sharing of space with audience and artists makes every performance wholly different, and revitalizes our connections, but we still need to be careful,” he said. “Though we keep hoping that COVID is behind us, we need to be responsible and mask up for the two-and-a-half hours of a show.”
X. Alexander Durden, who plays Roger, said the show still resonates with audiences more than three decades after it debuted.
“This show still rings true in its themes of wealth disparity, classism and following one’s passions,” he said. “I hope it inspires everyone to be the change they want to see and fight for the things all people should be granted as a right.”
Durden said the show’s music is magical.
“It’s like a fire that we fuel for as long as we feed it,” he said. “It’s what musical theatre is truly about.”
Durden said audiences will find themselves immersed in the music as they root for the underdogs.
“This story is about love, loss and heart-shattering beauty,” he said. “The company have worked hard to bring this production to life in the heart of Midtown and I hope people come experience the magic we are making at the Hilberry.”
Jessica Annunziata, who plays Joanne, said the show’s music is filled with energy and passion.
“‘Rent’ is a story about really living life, striving to make the best out of bad news and being there for our fellow human beings,” she said. “It’s a privilege to tell a story about a moment when the government abandoned people to a horrible disease.”
Annunziata said it is an honor to be able to share her queer identity with her character.
“The LGBTQ+ community and allies stood together in spite of rampant stigma,” she said.
Others in the cast include: Ryan Bernier as Mark Cohen; Taurean Hogan as Tom Collins; Tommy Favorite as Benjamin Coffin III; Adam Graber as Angel Schunard; Marcela Gazaro as Mimi Marquez and LaRaisha Dionne as Maureen Johnson.
The ensemble includes: Nick Easterling, CC Findlay, Quinn Jacob, Jacob Lipski, Olivia Paryaski, Joe Smentowski, Katy Tye and Jack Welcher, and, as swings, Rachel Paulin and Nick Smathers.
The show runs 8 p.m. Sept. 23, 24 and 30, and Oct. 1; 7 p.m. Sept. 29; 2 p.m. Sept. 24 and 28 and Oct. 1; and 3 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Hilberry Theater, 4743 Cass Ave. in Detroit.
Tickets are $22 for adults, $18 for seniors, faculty, staff and alumni and $15 for students. To order, call the box office at 313-577-2972 or go to theatreanddance.wayne.edu/rent2022.
All audience members are required to wear a mask and comply with university COVID protocols.
The show contains drug, alcohol and tobacco use, adult language and sexual references, and theatrical haze, fog, flashing lights and loud music.