When the 20th anniversary tour of Rent rolls into Houston this week, it’ll be the first stop for the fully revamped cast. While the tour itself has been traveling the country for the last couple of years, the Houston stop marks the first time this iteration of the cast has done the show in these roles.
“I think it speaks to how relevant the show is, how important it is to keep telling this story,” says Cody Jenkins, who plays the filmmaker Mark in the show. “The fact that the show still tells an important story is a credit to Jonathan.”
That would be Jonathan Larson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his re-imagining of Puccini’s La boheme, moving the bohemians and artists of Paris to a gritty-but-gentrifying New York of the 1990s, populated with drag queens, musicians, professors, seedy club dancers, and a host of other struggling artists, all living against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The show was an instant hit, and became a touchstone for a generation for the raw honesty and unflinching eye it cast upon the lives of its characters. It would go on to win four Tony awards and capture the imagination of scores of artists who saw it, including Lin Manuel Miranda, who was so captivated by Rent’s characters, he was inspired to write In the Heights, and who went on to create the mega-hit Hamilton.
Rent, with its rock-infused music, its epic scenes, its plea for compassion for its characters, its commentary on how a changing New York City both elevated some and left others behind, became something more than beloved. It became iconic. Larson died shortly before the show’s opening, a tragedy that devastated the cast and the show’s fans. At its opening, Rent was a rejection of the opulent spectacle of rock operas such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, and it went on to be an anthem of left-behind voices.
“I was still young when the film was released, and that was my first exposure to the story,” says Jenkins, who graduated from Texas State University in 2015. “But I love the heart of this show, that love is what matters.”
For the actor, playing Mark is a chance to stretch his own creativity. He likes the way his character gets to interact with all of the other characters in the show.
“He might not be in every scene, but he’s so engaged with everyone,” says Jenkins. “He’s tied into everything.”
The Texas native—he’s from Ft. Worth—is elated to be coming to Houston, where he has friends and family. He’s looking forward to those he loves seeing his work on stage, alongside a cast he’s come to consider family. He encourages audiences to look closely at the meaning of the musical, the themes of which still hit close to home, he believes.
“Some people look at this show and say, ‘I don’t get it. It’s people complaining about their lives,’” he says. “But there’s so much truth in this show. It’s about really seeing people, in all their struggles, of trying to find out who you are and how you live your own truth. I think it shows the strength of these people, how it’s important to support them. It’s all about love.”
August 6–11. Tickets from $70. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. 713-315-2525. More info and tickets at houston.broadway.com.