By Khalida Sarwari
Broadway San Jose will open the new year with a show that carries an inspiring message of hope in the face of fear and remind audiences at the Center for Performing Arts to measure their lives with love.
That show is the critically acclaimed “Rent,” touring nationally 20 years after its premiere on Broadway, with a stop in San Jose Jan. 23-28.
A modern-day take on Puccini’s “La bohème,” Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” tells the story of seven young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City’s East Village while living with HIV or AIDS.
New York native Skyler Volpe plays 19-year-old Mimi Márquez, an HIV-positive erotic dancer who Volpe described as “super sexy and super loving life to the fullest, and also dealing with her own mortality.”
“I think that the show is definitely trying to suggest that we all live our lives with love,” she said. “Instead of fueling animosity or negativity, what if we just chose love, what would that be like?”
Volpe said she was raised with “Rent,” having lived in a household where her mother—a big fan of the musical herself—would play the soundtrack either at home or in the car. Volpe said she had a chance to see the musical on Broadway when was 10 or 11.
“It’s definitely always been a part of my life,” she said.
“Rent” marks Volpe’s first national tour, but she’s been with the production from the beginning. A native of Long Island, Volpe moved to New York City after graduating from Connecticut College to pursue stage acting.
“It’s been crazy; it’s been really fun and really exciting,” she said.
Volpe’s fellow cast member Kaleb Wells plays Roger Davis, Mimi’s boyfriend, a songwriter-musician who is also HIV-positive.
“At the beginning of the show, he has kind of given up and he is just kind of waiting to die because he doesn’t know when he’s going to die, and he wants to find his stamp on the world and write one powerful song to leave behind because he is dealing with his own mortality,” Wells said.
Like Volpe, Wells has been a lifelong fan of “Rent,” thanks to his mother.
“I just grew up listening to the soundtrack in the car and at home, and it was one of the musicals that introduced me to the world of musical theater,” he said. “To be able to tell the story in my own unique way is such an honor.”
Like Volpe, Wells is based in New York, but he originally hails from New Hampshire. This is also his first national tour, though he has been performing since childhood, even on cruise ships for a few years after college.
Both Volpe and Wells said they’re looking forward to visiting friends when the tour comes to San Jose at the end of January.
“We toured through San Francisco last year for two weeks,” Wells said. “We were able to kind of tour around, and I have some friends in San Jose, so it’ll be nice to see them.”
The Pulitzer- and Tony-winning rock musical originally opened off-Broadway in 1996, but transferred to Broadway just two months later. That year, it won a Tony Award for best musical along with the Pulitzer Prize for drama, becoming one of five musicals to win both awards.,
Evan Ensign has restaged the 20th anniversary touring production based on the original direction by Michael Greif, with choreography by Marlies Yearby.
The national tour is produced by Work Light Productions and presented as part of Broadway San Jose’s 2017–18 season. “Rent” runs Jan. 23-28 at the Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $48-$128 at ticketmaster.com, 800-982-ARTS (2787) or the City National Civic Box Office, 150 W. San Carlos St., San Jose. For more information, visit broadwaysanjose.com/rent.