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20th anniversary tour of ‘Rent’ starts in Cincinnati this week

In 1996, a rock musical by an obscure composer revolutionized musical theater, injecting youth and millennial social commentary into a landscape dominated by period standbys like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables.” “Rent” followed a cross-section of young artists from all over the sexuality spectrum, struggling to achieve their creative dreams (and in some cases, struggling merely to survive) in New York City’s East Village at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

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In September 2016, a 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” was launched, which has been extended into 2019. It begins its run in Cincinnati this week. A lot has changed in 20 years. America has gone from overwhelmingly disapproving of same-sex marriage to the legalization of same, ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet according to Lyndie Moe, who plays Maureen Johnson, a brash performance artist and one of the show’s most popular characters, she still spies people walking out of the show in anger.

“Some people still get offended at seeing same-sex couples kissing onstage,” she said. “It’s usually the older generation.”

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Didn’t they know what the show is about at this point?

Moe laughed. “Apparently, some people never look it up! They think it’s a Disney-type thing. But our choreographer told us the most important thing is to move people, to make them think, even if they end up leaving.”

Although HIV is no longer the automatic death sentence it once was, Moe said the show is still very much relevant.

“We still hear a lot of stories about how it changed people’s lives,” she said. “How they can relate to the characters in the show, how it helped them come out to their families. A lot of the show is about living life to the fullest, letting go of grudges, not having any regrets. And we’re a young cast, so we bring a lot of ourselves and our experiences to the show.”

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Moe said she first saw “Rent” as a high school production. She said she immediately related to Maureen, having no idea she would play her in a few years.

“Like her, I’m a bit of a whack job,” she said. “I loved how crazy she was, how she sang an entire number about milk.”

HOW TO GO

What: “Rent” 20th Anniversary Tour

When: Dec. 11-23, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays

Where: Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati

Cost: $31 and up

More info: 513-621-2787 or www.cincinnatiarts.org

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