The Relevance of Rent

The former Broadway hit "Rent" made a stop at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood on Friday, Feb. 27 to play to a packed house waiting to be wooed by the seductive singing of its all-star cast.

The show was one of the most highly anticipated as Adam Pascal returned to reprise his role as Roger Davis, a singer/songwriter living among the artists in their Lower East Village, low rent lofts.

Rent is a modern day version of Puccini's much loved opera "La Boheme". It centers on a group of HIV positive friends, and one documentarian, Mark Cohen, played by Anthony Rapp.

Mark is documenting the group's protest of their community's closure to make room for a new high rise, typical of New York City's gentrification of the early '90s. The rock opera deals with the gravity of the AIDS epidemic in 1989-1990 and the mixed emotions that come along with coping with the deadly disease.

The underlying story is how much or how little life can change in the 525,600 minutes that make up a year.

The crowd gathered almost an hour before show time adorned in their black and white striped scarves, mimicking the one that Mark wears throughout the show.

The Pantages Theater makes a beautiful and fitting home for the show with its majestic and enchanting decorum. The Theater was first open in 1930, as part of the Fox Theater chain.

Its large and recognizable signage is one of the premier Hollywood landmarks, with its moniker "Pantages" cascading from high above and falling to the top of the theater's grand entrance and ticket booth area.

No expense was spared in the construction of the theater, even though it was being constructed during the hardest years of the Great Depression. The original projectors alone were over $1.25 million, which is the equivalent of over $10 million today.

The Pantages had struggled throughout its history. It was owned by several notables including Howard Hughes. It hosted the Oscars for some time. It was turned into a movie house until 1977, when the Formans family's Pacific Theaters were joined by the Nederlander Organization to bring legitimate live theater back to Hollywood.

For a theater that struggled to find its identity over the last 79 years, the Pantages shows no signs of wear, or slowing down. The nearly 3,000 seats were sold out for the entire run of Rent and almost every attendee spoke of getting their tickets ahead of time for Taylor Hick's performance in Grease.

"The theater brings a much better caliber of actor out," said Mark Hunt, an electrical engineer in attendance with his wife. "They seem to be more committed to the art than the celebrity compared to today's stars."

"Rent" has been labeled "irrelevant" by some critics because the AIDS epidemic has lost its urgency in the eyes of the media with the introduction of potent drug cocktails that can keep victims alive for many years. The disease is no longer solely identified as a gay problem or an intravenous drug user problem. It devastates people from all walks of life.

While "Rent" 's most prevalent message lies in AIDS awareness, its timelessness lies in the struggle of starving artists fighting the desire to stay true to their own passion, versus the monetary benefits of "selling out."