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More relevant than ever, closer to original musical 'Rent' returns for 9th run

By Park Ga-young

Published : Nov. 22, 2023 - 10:18

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The cast performs The cast performs "Seasons of Love" from the latest run of the musical "Rent," during a press conference at Coex Artium in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Nov. 15. (Yonhap)

The successful premiere of "Rent" in South Korea in 2000 set the stage for seven subsequent revivals, extending until 2011. Over the course of about a decade, the Korean production garnered adoration from enthusiasts -- though not necessarily from the masses -- and served as a launching pad for emerging talent in the musical theater scene.

When Seensee Company decided to bring it back in 2020 after a nine-year hiatus, it sought to revive the vibe of the original Broadway production. It invited Andy Senor Jr., a director who had made his professional debut in the role of Angel Dumott Schunard, to revive Michael Greif's original direction. Ditching the musical's role as a launching pad for new actors, the revamped "Rent" sought seasoned performers, striving to achieve both quality and broad appeal, which continued for the 2023 edition.

The story of a group of young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create a meaningful life amid poverty -- the musical’s original inspiration is the Puccini opera “La Boheme” -- holds enduring significance. While the original music that portrayed a diverse group of people living in New York City during the HIV/AIDS crisis, including drug addicts, captured Broadway audiences in the 1990s, the musical may find resonance with an even broader audience in today’s Korea.

Compared to the 2000s, Korean audiences today are more accustomed to LGBTQ+ representation in both media and real life. Young people struggle to find jobs and unemployment has become an enduring issue in Korean society. In addition, heightened awareness and concern about drug use in the country seem to have reached an unprecedented level.

The revamped rendition of "Rent," therefore, has numerous elements that could lead to another success.

The original score of the musical incorporates elements of pop, R&B and musical theater that linger in the ear after the show. "Seasons of Love" undoubtedly raises goosebumps.

Kim Ho-young (left) performs drag queen character Angel during a press conference at Shinhan Artium at Coex in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Nov. 15. The 40-year-old actor's musical debut was as Angel in 2002. (Yonhap) Kim Ho-young (left) performs drag queen character Angel during a press conference at Shinhan Artium at Coex in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Nov. 15. The 40-year-old actor's musical debut was as Angel in 2002. (Yonhap)

The music and acting are skillfully executed by a group of 24 experienced actors in the latest production.

Kim Ho-young, who debuted on the musical stage as Angel in 2002, has become synonymous with the role of a compassionate drag queen. However, Kim announced it would probably be his last time performing the role.

“I’m probably the longest-playing and oldest Angel ever,” Kim said at a press conference for the musical. “This is probably my last time performing Angel. Until it ends, I will keep ‘No day but today,’ the theme of the musical, in mind.”

Sharing the role of Angel is K-pop boy band 2AM’s lead vocalist Jo Kwon.

“I tell people that my persona is high heels. When putting on the heels, I feel like a superhero,” Jo said. “When I read the script, it resonated with me a lot."

Having opened on Broadway in 1994, “Rent” has won several Tony Awards. The musical is a modern reinterpretation of “La Boheme,” about the Bohemian lifestyle of poor artists in 1830.

In Korea, Seensee staged a local version of "Rent" in 2000. Subsequently, the musical experienced revivals in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2011. To commemorate its 20th anniversary, "Rent" returned in 2020 with a refreshed version.

“Rent” is running until Feb. 25, 2024 at Coex Artium in southeastern Seoul.

The cast sings The cast sings "La Vie Boheme" during the latest run of the musical "Rent." (Seensee)