Durham, N.C. — For the first time in nearly 10 years, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical Rent is returning to the DPAC, after a run of sell-out shows marked its 2008 season locally. The 20th Anniversary Tour makes its Triangle appearance as part of the DPAC’s Encore Broadway series, and takes the stage beginning Tuesday night through Sunday.
In a world of Broadway hits that include such shows as the controversial religious comedy Book of Mormon and the recent runaway success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, it’s a little difficult to remember just how revolutionary Rent was when it first catapulted into pop culture in 1996. A re-imagining of Puccini’s La Boheme, the stage production follows a year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without “selling out” – this was 1996, so selling out was still a thing – while becoming one of only five musicals to win both the Tony for Best Musical in the same year as grabbing the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The DPAC is also offering fans a special opportunity to watch the show from the best seats in the house for less than many of us spend on coffee in a week. Seats in the first two rows of the orchestra section will be made available for $23 for every performance of the show. The $23 tickets are only available for in-person purchases at the DPAC Ticket Center, located at 123 Vivian St. in Durham, on the day of each specific performance only, two hours prior to the show, and there is a limit of two tickets per person. For general ticket information, go to DPACnc.com or call the ticket office at (919) 680-2787.
I had the chance to talk to Danny Kornfeld before the local run of Rent begins. Kornfeld is no stranger to appearing in stage productions that have a history of taking Broadway by storm, recently appearing in adaptations of Spring Awakening and Fiddler on the Roof. Performing as Mark, an aspiring filmmaker who serves as something of the backbone of the play, the actor will be on the road throughout the entire production schedule, keeping him busy through June of 2017. We spoke about his first experience with Rent; his theory on the show’s popularity; and if he is as sick of the song “Seasons of Love” as everyone else is.
Isaac Weeks: What was your first encounter with Rent?
Danny Kornfeld: I first was introduced to the soundtrack when I was nine years old. My parents had seen the original production, with the original cast, so we would listen to the soundtrack on the way to soccer practice. It was totally a new sound that I had never heard before; I had grown up listening to traditional music theater, so this was something entirely different. Then I was able to see the show when I was eleven.
IW: From its very debut, Rent has had immense popularity. As you touched on, do you think the soundtrack is one of the main reasons that the show has remained in the spotlight, all these years later?
DK: I definitely think so. I think, going back to what I said, it was a new sound that merged what people were hearing on the radio at the time to something that they would then see onstage in a theatrical setting. I think that is what gave it the initial reaction it received, and I think it carries through. I believe that there is a sense of nostalgia that people feel with the show, in a good way, and I think new generations still believe it feels contemporary, even though it was written in the 1990s.
IW: You’ll be playing Mark in this production, whose character also serves as the narrator of the show. Do you have any history of playing narrators before this production?
DK: Back in high school, I was the stage manager of our production of Our Town, so there was a ton of giving process and telling the audience what you are about to see. That’s really the only time I’ve narrated from the stage during a show.
IW: “Seasons of Love” opens the second act of Rent. Having listened to the song since you were nine years old, and now singing it nearly every night, be honest: you have to grit your teeth a little bit each night knowing that it’s coming up, right?
DK: I’m kind of surprised, because I figured that would be the case as well, but it really hasn’t been! I think that since I know now, after going through the rehearsal process and working with the original creative team, that the song means something completely different to me now as opposed to when I was listening to it growing up. I haven’t gotten sick of it yet, but we also have nine more months on the road with it, so I guess we’ll see.
IW: Benny has become a real dividing point for many fans of the show, as it seems that the older an audience member becomes, the more likely they look at his actions and think, “Eh, he’s not that bad of a guy…” [Benny is a former close friend of most of the characters, and has allowed them to live in his building without paying rent for over a year. He’s kind of brusque, sure, but no rent for a year?!?] Have your perceptions of the character changed over the years?
DK: Yeah, because I think Mark and Roger’s relationship with Bennie is one of unconditional love, because this guy was their best friend. I think there’s always some glimmer of hope whenever Mark has an encounter with Bennie, because he is hoping he will come around and become a little more like the guy he once was. He’s not a bad guy, he’s just got a lot of money and wants to do things with it.