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'Rent' highlights struggles of eight friends

Musical highlights bright lights, big city, dark shadows.

By Adam Pulchinski, Free Press Correspondent [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 9/23/2011]

The bright lights of the big city cast the darkest shadows. Eight friends struggle to find a way to survive as artists in New York City amidst poverty, homelessness and the AIDS epidemic.

The heavy subject matter carries with it a message of love and acceptance in the musical “Rent,” which will make its debut at Minnesota State Mankato Thursday in the Ted Paul Theatre of the Performing Arts Center.

Paul Finocchiaro, director of the production, is excited to bring the musical to Minnesota State Mankato.

“Surprisingly, there are a lot of people out there who don’t know what ‘Rent’ is about,” said Finocchiaro, an associate professor in the Department of Theatre & Dance. “It’s a rock ’n’ roll opera interpretation of ‘La Boheme.’ It’s about being an artist in the hardest place to live in the world and surviving — to get through a year and the changes that take place.”

“Rent” was adapted with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, an American composer and playwright who died the night before the off-Broadway premiere. The musical was nominated for several Tony Awards and won for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Featured Actor. It has also been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and many other honors.

While “Rent” has been around since the early 1990s, the rights to perform it became available to colleges last year.

One of the characters, Benjamin, has married a wealthy woman and becomes the landlord to the other characters -- and the opposite of what they stand for. The artists are in danger of being kicked out of their living space and try to succeed while remaining in their home.

“It’s fun, contemporary and cool,” Finocchiaro said. “I was very impressed. It was innovative. It was alive — it dealt with AIDS, same-sex couples, surviving. It’s resonant with theater artists.”

“Rent” drew the largest number of auditions for a production at Minnesota State Mankato, with 90 students competing for roles.

Finocchiaro added movement and dance to the production, and cast members point out that the entire show is music.

For the complete Free Press story, see Friday's print edition, or go to

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