Bianca Brutus (NBC News) discusses the staging of the Broadway musical Rent in Cuba, and how it made history. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]
When “Rent” opened on Broadway in 1996, it made history with numerous accolades. In 2014, it gained another groundbreaking feat after it became the first musical in 50 years to be staged by an American company in Cuba. “Revolution Rent,” a documentary currently on HBO Max, explores the journey of taking “Rent” to Havana.
At the center of the documentary is director Andy Señor Jr., a Cuban American who played Angel in the original Broadway production. Señor Jr. had staged “Rent” before in cities in South Korea and Japan, but taking the production to his parents’ native country meant exploring a painful past.
“There was hesitancy in telling my family,” Señor said. “But I didn’t really think about it much because I knew that I wanted to go to Cuba.”
Señor’s parents fled Cuba after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. Señor’s father, Andy Sr., never saw his country again. Gloria, Señor’s mother, expressed hesitation about her son’s project in Cuba. “I love my country very much, and I’d love to go back, but in a different situation,” Señor’s mother says in the film.
Fortunately, Señor’s mother visited Cuba to see “Rent” before her death.
“That was like a very full, complete moment for my mom. Her big thing was she didn’t want what happened to my father, where he passed away without going, and never seeing his home again. She didn’t want that to happen to her,” Señor said.
The journey to put on “Rent” in Havana in six weeks was arduous. The show, which follows a group of young adults in New York City struggling with economic hardship and the rise of HIV/AIDS, opens on Christmas Eve. The show in Havana also opened on Dec. 24.
For Señor Jr., a major challenge was channeling the vision of the show’s writer, Jonathan Larson, who died unexpectedly just before the show’s first off-Broadway preview performance.
“Jonathan’s words, music and reputation is the spirit of what ‘Rent’ is. People understand the impact of the show and the message of love and tolerance and family through him,” Señor said.
“Rent” in Cuba was a new opportunity, not just for Señor but for the Cuban cast. Many had never performed onstage prior to auditioning, and some had discomfort around the sexual and homosexual themes in the musical.
Señor came to realize that coming to Cuba as an American meant experiencing major cultural differences and acknowledging the reality of how Cuba was far different from his expectations.
“Getting there and seeing how urban it was and that the young Cuban artists couldn’t relate to the nostalgia that was particular within the exile community was a bit new for me to understand,” Señor said. “So I thought, what is Cuba now that is not this nostalgic version?”
Revolution Rent official trailer
Trailer World, June 10, 2021
Revolution Rent: Staging of the Broadway Musical RENT in Cuba
Factual America Podcast, June 15, 2021