US Theater takes on Rent

Rent: the Hamilton of an older generation. A rock musical, but also a story about artists dealing with the AIDS epidemic. For US theater director Eric Severson, Rent has been a large part of his life.

“I have loved this show since when I first heard the soundtrack in 1996 when it came out and when I was fortunate enough to see the original Broadway cast in the summer of 1996 because like Hamilton, it redefined a moment in musical theater history,” Severson said.

This spring the cast and crew took on this iconic musical. 

“Working on Rent has been a really different experience for me because I have really had to think about the characters we are trying to embody,” sophomore Ananya Narayan said. “For Guys and Dolls, we all felt like cartoon characters, which made it easy to act out, but in Rent, all of the characters stories and experiences are so raw and full of emotion, which means we have to make sure we are doing justice to the words and music of the show.”

In addition to getting the emotions right, to make the musical successful students had to dedicate an enormous amount of time outside of school. When asked what students might not know about producing the musical, actors discussed the time commitment.

Leading up to performances, junior Max Moen said, “I’ve had to go to rehearsals for every weeknight for the past few weeks, but all that time is worth it.”

[Rent] redefined a moment in musical theater history

— Eric Severson

“The musical is a huge commitment,” Narayan said. “[Severson] is wonderful about being flexible about rehearsals to accommodate other activities, but you have to be prepared to work really hard.”

Severson is acutely aware of how much effort the musical requires.

“There are countless hours that we put in outside rehearsal time,” Severson said, ”prepping and making sure we are ready to go in and take this to to the next level, and for the cast they are working on memorizing lines, working on choreography, reviewing their blocking, making sure, they know what they need to do in each and every scene.”

All that effort is worth the enjoyment and opportunity the cast provides for an audience. For Moen, it’s about walking in a different person’s shoes:  “I do [the musical] because it gives me a chance to ‘be a different person’,” Moen said, “The stage gives me a chance to escape everyday life and transport myself to a world where song and dance intermix in otherwise normal moments.”

Rent performed on the Huss Center Stage May 18-20.

NOTE: this article was updated to correct a misquote in the print edition.