Famous Broadway play to open at WU theatre

Poverty, drug addiction and the struggle to survive are all rolled into one in a Pulitzer Prize-winning musical.

“Rent,” Broadway’s eighth longest running show, is coming to Washburn University this April, as a collaborative production between The Helen Hocker Center for the Performing Arts and the Washburn theatre department.  Set in New York City’s lower east side in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, Rent focuses on a group of young artists and musicians fighting for survival while living amidst urban decay and the ominous fog of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

This will be the fourth collaborative theatrical production that The Helen Hocker Theatre and Washburn have teamed up for. All collaborations have been musicals for multiple reasons.

“Part of it is because musicals are more expensive to produce,” said Paul Prece, chair of the Washburn theatre department and director of this semester’s production of “Rent.”  Musicals usually need larger numbers of people, and the budget needs to be sizably increased because you have to have an orchestra, and you have to have a musical director and a choreographer.”

 Another benefit is that the partnership opens up auditions to other actors besides Washburn students.

“Students work with people who tend to be more experienced than they are, and that’s a good thing,” said Prece.  


“Rent,” self-classified as a rock opera, was written by Jonathan Larson and is loosely based on Giacoma Puccini’s opera “La bohѐme.” “Rent” held its final Broadway performance in 2008 and has just recently released the production rights that allow the musical to be produced by other entities. But, that’s not the only reason the musical chosen for production this semester.

“I think that this play has something to say for this generation,” said Prece.

A musical that classifies itself as a rock opera and features college-age people who are short everything but problems would probably have a hard time keeping them away.

The music, lyrics and book for “Rent” were written during the time period in which the play is set. Besides a short three-week run at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994, the official premiere of “Rent” was Jan. 25, 1996. Sadly, the show’s creator, Larson, died unexpectedly the night before. The musical soon outgrew the New York Theatre Workshop. In April of its opening year, it gained international acclaim and won a Pulitzer Prize. “Rent” ran on Broadway for 12 years and in 1996 won several Tony Awards including Best Musical. “Rent” will open in the Andrew J. and Georgia Neese Gray Theatre Apr. 23 and will continue Apr. 24, 25, 29 and 30, as well as May 1 and 2. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $6 with a valid Washburn ID.