Mark's an aspiring filmmaker, you see. He's roommates with Roger, an ex-junkie with dreams of making it as a rock star ("One Day Glory"). Roger meets Mimi, a kinky-club dancer who's also destitute and sort-of trying to kick her habit ("Light My Candle"). Mark goes around videotaping everyone and trying to forget how his girlfriend Maureen, a flamboyant social activist, left him for a woman, straitlaced lesbian Joanne ("Tango: Maureen"). Mark and Roger's former roommate, a philosophy professor named Tom Collins, meets and falls in love with Angel, a street drummer and drag queen ("I'll Cover You"). Four of the characters have AIDS. There are disappointments and heartbreaks and deaths, but Jonathan Larson's melodies and words also convey exuberance and beauty.
It's also been 11 years since Larson, the creator of Rent, returned to his apartment the night before his musical opened off-Broadway and dropped dead, the victim of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. The requiems in Rent are for him too.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & R & lt;/span & ent last visited Spokane in December 2002 in an Equity production. The current show is the musical's fourth national tour but its first non-Equity version. Eleven years on, and they're still singing at the top of the second act (just as the 2005 movie opened) about "Seasons of Love":
Five hundred twenty-five thousand,
six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in a life?
... Let's celebrate, remember
A year in the life of friends.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ut one of the Rent bohemians' buddies and ex-roommates has become an ex-friend: Benny, who marries into wealth and starts acting like a snooty landlord, jacking up the rent on East Village squats. The role (created by Taye Diggs) is sung and danced on the current tour by Michael Ifill, who -- in actors' time-honored strategy of loving the character you play -- refuses to accept that Benny is just a sellout. Ifill's first, not-so-convincing reason ("He's basically just a guy doing his job") gives way to a stronger argument: Benny, he says, "has dreams that would benefit him and friends. They're producers and musicians, and he thinks they could do what they need to do and still make money."
Benny, in other words, gives voice to some of the thoughts of Rent's bourgeois theater-going audience: Don't rock any boats. Remember how commerce trumps art. Keep an eye on your profit margins.
Still, we all sense there are more important things in life. Ifill points out that the death of one of Rent's main characters has a similar kind of focusing effect: "It always takes something tragic for people to change or appreciate their life or their friends," he says. "I was born and raised in New York ... When the Twin Towers dropped, it was so quiet in the train stations. There was no honking. The racism toned down just a tad. Some people got more religious."
In a comparable way, Ifill suggests, Rent breaks down barriers among its characters and between its characters and audiences: After a shared, harrowing experience, we all lower our hostility levels.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n contrast, there's a kind of self-centeredness to the "groovy revolution" of Hair: Let us be free to achieve the self-realization of our acid trips, the hippies seem to squeal. In just 11 years, perhaps the AIDS-focused anti-Reaganism of Rent is also beginning to feel dated. But the case Rent makes for acceptance -- not just tolerance, but acceptance of its gender-crossing, trans-racial, convention-flouting friendships -- seems other-focused in a way likely to ensure that Rent will extend its reach into the next generation. Rent isn't about a Me Generation. It's about outreach to others: Accept us, because we're here, queer and likely to stay near. Accept our differences. Keep an eye on society's margins.
Even the vainglorious Bennys of this world can learn to love la vie boheme.
Rent-heads can get a fix at the INB Center on Monday-Tuesday, May 14-15, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $30-$48. Visit www.bestofbroadwayspokane.com or call 325-SEAT.