When asked to describe the upcoming revival of Rent at Green Valley Ranch, the show’s producer, Andrew Wright, as you might expect, quickly launched into superlatives. The new show is “insane, absolutely amazing” and will “blow the roof off Ovation,” the showroom at Green Valley Ranch.
What makes him so optimistic about this version of Rent—which ran on Broadway from 1996-2008 and later spawned a film adaptation—is that he and the cast and crew are updating the rhythms and beats in the show’s score. “Everything is still there,” Wright explains. “We just amped it up.” For one song they even imported a DJ to freshen up the music.
But the heart of the show remains. “Rent is really, really hard to do much to,” Wright says. “It’s so well-known. But it’s one of those absolutely wonderfully written pieces. We’re staying very true to the message and the point of the show.”
The show, a loose adaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème, follows a group of bohemians trying to find love—and themselves—amid the heady freedom and squalor of Manhattan’s Alphabet City, circa the early ’90s, while the specter of AIDS stands ready to snuff out their dreams.
“It’s sort of Shakespearean in a way; you end up following several people who are connected,” cast member Jamie Woodard says. “It sort of is more about the different relationships between people who come from a bohemian lifestyle.”
AIDS is no longer quite the scourge it was in the early ’90s milieu of the play. The show hopes to reflect the “trueness of what AIDS was then,” Wright says. “Today, if people have AIDS, it’s still serious, but it’s very treatable. There’s a lot of support. Whereas then, you were literally going to die.”
The show is aiming for the right level of grit. Other productions have sanitized the character of Roger, an ex heroin addict and rock musician; here the essential rawness of he character, played by Remix singer Aaron Paul, returns. “Not many people who were illegal squatters were very poppy and boy-bandish,” Wright says.
Still, anchored by its most famous song, the gospel-y “Seasons of Love,” Rent ultimately is meant to inspire. “The message is no day but today. The message is living every minute of your life to the fullest.” It’s a message written into the show’s DNA—creator Jonathan Larson died unexpectedly the night before the show opened.
Wright and company are making the best of the limitations of staging the show in Ovation’s performance space, which is small and lacks wing space. “We can’t have the whole cast on the stage at once. We have to find creative ways to place them around the house.”
Rent is being produced here by the nonprofit RagTag Entertainment, which Wright started two years ago to expose local youth to the arts. The troupe has put on shows at outdoor festivals across the city and is known for its charitable work. Last year it produced Jekyll & Hyde, with proceeds going to the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. Proceeds from Rent will be split between Golden Rainbow, which provides assistance to Southern Nevada’s HIV/AIDS community, and Jonathan Larson Grants, a nonprofit organization set up to assist emerging musical theater talent.