Stage Door: The roots of 'Rent' — 'La Bohème'

'Rent' composer/lyricist Jonathan Larson was inspired by Puccini’s opera.

click to enlarge Jessica Rivera is Musetta in "La Bohème." - Photo: Philip Groshong
Photo: Philip Groshong
Jessica Rivera is Musetta in "La Bohème."
Cincinnati Opera kicks off its 97th season this week with a production of Puccini’s La Bohème, conducted by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s music director, Louis Langrée. The 1897 work is one of the most popular in the opera world’s repertoire: It’s about a bunch of impoverished, destitute artists who still love life — even when it’s threatened by a dreaded disease, tuberculosis. If this sounds vaguely like the 1990s musical Rent, well, that’s because composer/lyricist Jonathan Larson was inspired by Puccini’s opera. Instead of Paris’ Latin Quarter in the 1830s, he put the story in New York City’s East Village when HIV/AIDS was stalking the creative class. Both are stories of love and loss and the importance of trivial things — including a candle. And Larson even made a very overt reference: Roger, his aspiring guitarist, repeatedly plays a guitar riff he’s trying to make into more. In fact, it’s the opening musical phrase from “Quando m’en vo,” a catchy aria from La Bohème also known as “Musetta’s Waltz.” Performances of this gorgeous classic happen at the Aronoff this Saturday and next week on Thursday and Saturday. Tickets: 513-241-2742.

Not much else new onstage this week, but several good productions are worth catching. On the Cincinnati Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage, you can still enjoy Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, the solo show about the beloved newspaper columnist, which has been entertaining audiences since early May. After three extensions, the production will close on June 24. At the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, the baseball-themed musical Damn Yankees is rounding third and heading home on Sunday. Performances of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat continue at the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati’s new 150-seat facility on Red Bank Road through July 8.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here. 

Rick Pender

RICK PENDER has written about theater for CityBeat since its first issues in 1994. Before that he wrote for EveryBody’s News. From 1998 to 2006 he was CityBeat’s arts & entertainment editor. Retired from a long career in public relations, he’s still a local arts fan, providing readers (and public radio listeners)...
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