Fri, Jan 20, 2006 - Page 13 News List

This space is for 'Rent'

It's not coming until next month, but given Taipei's new-found fervor for musical theater, it's better to put up a for 'Rent' notice now before there are no more vacancies

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Hong Kong Mando-pop superstar Karen Mok plays the drug addicted, HIV-positive dance Mimi opposite Broadway cast alumni in Rent, set to run at the International Convention Center in Taipei from February.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF BROKER BROTHERS

The 10 year-old musical Rent has gained a new lease on life and is now touring Asia. It will tack up a sign and take to the stage of the International Convention Center on Feb. 7 through Feb. 12.

Based on Giacomo Puccini's 1896 opera, La Boheme, Rent tells of one year in the life a group of friends living a Bohemian life in New York's East Village in 1990, struggling to succeed as artists, haunted by the specter of HIV, ravaged and rewarded by their relationships, and of course trying hard to pay the rent.

"Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes," are Rent's opening lines. "How do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles in laughter in strife. In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in the life?"

For the show's co-creator, Jonathan Larson, the answer was to "measure it in love ... seasons of love."

In 1989, he teamed up with playwright Billy Aronson and wrote the music and lyrics for the show. Originally set in New York's Upper West Side, Aronson moved the action to New York's downtown area, where Larson himself lived. From there, the story began to more closely reflect Larson's own life, where he and friends kept an apartment in a derelict building with only an illegal wood-burning stove -- and each other's company -- to keep warm.

Like the show's lead character, the filmmaker Mark, Larson had an on-again, off-again relationship with a dancer who ultimately left him for a woman. His own roommate became the inspiration for Mark's roommate, the HIV-positive musician and former junkie Roger. Larson's childhood friend became the inspiration for Angel, Rent's HIV-positive drag queen street musician.

Other characters that round out the script tell of the turmoil in the lives of a generation of artists confronted with HIV: Angel's boyfriend is a computer whiz who is also living with HIV. Roger's girlfriend, Mimi, is also an HIV-positive drug addict S&M dancer. And Taye is the group's former friend who married for money and became their landlord and the anti-thesis of everything they held dear.

For the Asian touring company, many of these roles will be played by members of the original Broadway cast, putting to rest the notion that Taiwan gets only third-rate production

companies.

The show's Broadway alumni Jeremy Kushnier, John Eric Parker, Trey Ellet, Danielle Lee Greaves, Andy Senor and Caren Lyn Manuel are all reprising their original roles.

But for local audiences, the biggest draw may well be Karen Mok (莫文蔚) playing the drug addicted S&M dancer Mimi. Reviews of the show's dates in Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai have focused largely on Mok's performance, calling it everything from solid to outstanding, and getting better with each show date.

Mok had only two weeks' preperation time and four rehearsals with the cast before the Singapore premiere.

Like many of the characters in the heart-wrenching story, Larson's own life came to a tragic end. After struggling with the show through years of workshops and rewrites, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm the night before Rent's off-Broadway premiere. He was 35.

Following rave reviews, the show moved to the Nedelander Theater on Broadway. It opened 10 years ago this coming April and went on to earn four Tony awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Score of a Musical, as well as the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical. It also earned Larson a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

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