Winner of the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Rent endures as one of the longest running shows in Broadway history, defining a generation coming of age in the era of AIDS.
A rock musical based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme, the mega-hit by Jonathan Larson features such songs as La Vie Boheme, Seasons of Love, One Song Glory and Light My Candle. Rent continues at Bristol Riverside Theatre through June 3.
At its beginning — and continuing even today — Rent gathered a fierce following of fans who refer to themselves as “RENT-heads.”
James LaRosa, 29, who is now seen in the lead role of Mark Cohen, the documentary filmmaker and narrator of the show, admitted he is, indeed, a “RENT-head.”
“I’ve always loved this show and always wanted to play the part of Mark,” he said. “I saw the show over and over again ever since I was about fourteen years old. And now having the opportunity to be in the show is like a dream come true.”
Raised in Queens, New York, LaRosa said he wanted to be a performer when he was just 2 or 3 years old.
“They tell me even at that age I would say I wanted to grow up and be on Broadway and live in Manhattan,” he said.
That eventually came to pass for the young actor, but not before he attended the LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He was also a Jerry Seinfeld Scholarship Winner.
“Several winners are announced each year, and I received mine in voice,” LaRosa explained. “I was one of the first recipients in 2001, and each year all the winners meet with Jerry for a Seinfeld family breakfast n June. I feel very honored to be part of all that.”
He said he also feels honored to have appeared in many acclaimed shows such as Next To Normal, Singin’ in the Rain, Altar Boyz (which garnered him the Payne Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in Music Theatre), Gypsy and more. He’s also done film and television roles, but admitted he does prefer being on stage in front of a live audience.
“There’s something about connecting with the audience that nothing can ever compare to for me. I’m not against doing anything else, but I do love being on the stage,” he said.
And he especially loves his current role in a show that has spurred him on for many years.
“This show exposed my generation to things that had not been seen or talked about before. It got younger people talking about homosexuals, AIDS and HIV. Coming out as it did in the mid-90s, it told a story openly when nothing else did that,” he said. “As for me, someone who went to NYU and lived in the city, the subject matter was very close to me, and I came to know what it was like to survive in New York City. It gives a glimpse into the lives of struggling artists and what art means to them and the impact it left on me.”
As for his hopes for his audience, LaRosa hopes they come away with a new perspective.
“I hope they love the show and think highly of all of us who are in it,” he said. “I want them to think in ways about subjects they might not have thought about before. I want the audience to leave the theater thinking positively or negatively, but to have been really touched in some way by what they’ve just witnessed. After all, that’s what art is all about.”
And as for the actor inside him, LaRosa said he’s always striving to be a reputable actor that people will respect.
“For me, it’s never about the celebrity,” he said “It’s more about the work and the art. That’s all I really care about.” ••
For show times and ticket information, call 215-785-0100.