Rent, a show that exposed a generation to AIDS

James LaRosa


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.

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