As 20th anniversary tour of ‘RENT’ visits Fresno, a fresh take on a poignant musical
For all you original Rentheads out there — the ones who mobbed “RENT” in New York when it opened at the Nederlander Theatre (or wished they could), the ones who have seen the show 20 or 30 or 40 times, the ones who profoundly feel the hot-blooded, rebellious, twentysomething angst from Jonathan Larson’s brilliant Broadway musical still pounding through their veins — consider this tidbit illuminating the passage of time:
Logan Marks is 23.
“I was about eight months old when the show came out,” he says.
Pictured above: Logan Marks, left, Devinré Adams, Logan Farine in a scene from ‘RENT.’ Photo: Carol Rosegg
Sort of makes you feel old, right?
Marks plays Mark Cohen, the struggling documentary filmmaker whose point of view informs the famed musical, in the production that opens Wednesday, Feb. 6, at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre..
Welcome to the 20th anniversary tour of “RENT,” which launched in 2016 and continues to proclaim “There’s No Day Like Today” around the globe. Think about how much the “today” of the 1996 show has changed. A new generation is playing Mark, Roger, Mimi and Angel. These characters are frozen in a certain time, but they’re being brought to life in a different world. Could Larson have foreseen that in just a couple of decades, references to AZT — the only hope then for people with HIV/AIDS — be considered almost a historical footnote? Or that Manhattan’s Alphabet City neighborhood in the East Village has had its bohemian vibe squeezed out by gentrification? (Actually, Larson would have predicted that.)
Or, most important, that societal attitudes toward the GLBTQ community would have shifted so dramatically?
For Marks, who has been playing the role on tour for eight months, it was all part of a learning curve. That’s because — and brace yourselves, collected ‘heads — here comes the real shocker:
“I’ve actually never seen it live,” he says of the show in a phone interview.
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Then again, “RENT” is not a staple of community theater or regional productions. And Marks, who got a BFA at Western Carolina University, came to the musical-theater game a little late compared to other young actors. It’s not like he was a teen scrounging for bus fare to the nearest metropolis to see a “RENT” revival.
But after landing the role over a whole bunch of other wannabe Marks, he thinks that approaching the role fresh, without preconceived notions about how it’s always been played, has actually been a help.
“I was able to discover Mark without knowing that much about him,” he says.
While he might not be able to relate to some of the specifics in the show, he knows what it’s like to be just out of college with lots of loans to repay and struggling to, well, make the rent. (It doesn’t help when you’re headquartered in New York.) And he hasn’t watched anyone close to him struggle with HIV/AIDS. But, again, he doesn’t have to look far to find a connection. He has known people with cancer, so he can draw upon that experience for motivation.
The important thing, he says, is to honor the legacy of the musical while giving the show the freshness that a new generation can bring.
“I think it’s important that people know that we aren’t the original cast. Hopefully they understand that Logan Marks is not Anthony Rapp,” he says, referring to the originator of the role. But it’s tricky. Because it’s so iconic, there’s a lot of pressure to deliver.”
After a tour that has taken him to Japan and China, then back to more cities across the U.S., Marks has witnessed the impact that “RENT” can have on audiences. (In Japan, hundreds of people would enter the traditional lottery for cheap tickets, and there would usually be 100 or more fans at the stage door afterward.) Some of those fans say it’s their first time to see the show. “And others tell me it’s their 37th time.”
His favorites are the mothers who grew up on “RENT” who bring their daughters.
“Just think,” he says. “There are fans younger than I am.”