Arts & Entertainment

UWT and TLT collaborate for an unstoppable performance of ‘RENT’

The classic Broadway hit, which details the lives of young, impoverished performers who struggle to pay rent during the AIDS epidemic, comes to Tacoma. 

Tacoma Little Theatre and University of Washington Tacoma are now bringing to life the Tony-award winning musical “RENT.” Directed by Maria-Tania Bandes B. Weingarden, a UWT Theatre professor, “RENT” follows the life of a group of young, impoverished artists in the Lower East Side of New York during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  

As they struggle to survive and create a name for themselves, they face emotional distress and turmoil, living in poverty and under illnesses like AIDS/HIV. The disease, which overwhelmingly took a toll on the LGBTQ+ community, took the lives of more than 675,000 people in the U.S. alone and 30 million people worldwide. The show is a testament to how impactful the epidemic was not only to minorities, but also the deprivation of poor communities who struggle to survive and create. 

This is not the first time UWT and TLT have collaborated on a show. They worked on several shows together over the past decade, including “Rock of Ages,” a jukebox musical which plays classic rock songs. During the pandemic the show was put on pause momentarily while the world delt with the aftermath of COVID. Once it was safe to be around others, UWT and TLT continued to work together and build their relationship.  

“RENT” is a complex journey about unique characters living the best way they can with what they have. Based upon simple survival, they must come up with rent and figure out a way to live and not die on the street. The show is a mix of passion-filled characters and bold powerful performances.  

One character named Angel is a raunchy outgoing drag queen who loves to express themself to and perform on the street. The character, who is diagnosed with AIDS, finds happiness living in the moment with people they love despite their circumstance.  

Angel, played by “Erik Davis” and Tom played by Darryin Cunningham during the show. Photo by Tacoma Little Theatre.

During the first half of the show, Angel meets another man, Tom, who was left beaten up and mangled on the street. He is best described as a struggling unemployed teacher and genius composer who happens to be diagnosed with AIDS. From the start, sparks fly immediately between them. Their duet song “I’ll Be Your Cover” is an upbeat ballad about how Tom, despite not having money or material items, can instead offer affection and undying love for Angel.  

Their duet becomes a strong motif of their love story and reflects how their circumstance doesn’t deter either from the other, but instead brings them closer together. They view their love as a pure, devoted expression and believe there is more to look forward to than be scared about. 

 As their relationship blooms, the shadow of the AIDS pandemic looms over them. While “RENT” is a fun and hypnotic montage of young performers freely expressing themselves and ‘sticking it’ to the patriarchy, it is a seriously emotional look into how the very vulnerable struggle to live day to day.  

The actors who play Angel (Erik Davis) and Tom (Darryin Cunningham) help bring the perfect imperfections that these characters have to the stage. It’s not a total surprise why TLT and UWT have continued to collaborate once again for an unstoppable performance. From the singing to the acting, the characters come to life in a mesmerizing performance of the classic Broadway hit.  

Not only are the performances raw and emotionally driven, the costume and set design help illuminate the actors’ presence. From singing, to dancing, to climbing and jumping off a table, you are never faced with a dull moment. Their performances are lifted up by the live band that plays hit songs “Seasons of Love” and “Take Me or Leave Me.”  

RENT will run for a total of 16 performances until March 31. On March 21, 2024, there will be a special “Pay What You Can” performance for the public. If you would like to buy a ticket or learn more about the event, you can view their website at: 

Cast of RENT singing famous song “Seasons of Love” . Photo by Tacoma Little Theatre.

Mark, played by Zack Fowler”. Photo by Tacoma Little Theatre.