PAD presents ‘Rent’ March 3-6

Himes, Beal co-direct acclaimed rock musical in Edison Theatre

The cast of “Rent.” (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

Rent, my amigos, is due
Or I will have to evict you
Be there in a few
‑ Benny

Things are hard. Sickness rages. Money is tight and the landlord’s mad.

The stage is set for “Rent” Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning rock musical about young artists struggling to survive in New York’s East Village amidst the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“As artists, we try to find ways to move through tragic situations,” said Heather Beal (MFA ’18), a visiting choreographer in the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who will co-direct the show March 3-6 in Edison Theatre.

Though “Rent” debuted in 1996, Beal noted that many of its themes — financial insecurity, the lack of affordable housing and the pain and anger accompanying a pandemic — remain all too current.

“This production is grounded in what’s happening right now,” Beal explained. “And yet, even when things get very, very hard, we can still move through life, figuring out ways to have hope.”

Top row, from left: Alim Merchant as Benny, Matthew Kalmans as Angel, Danielle Bryden as Mimi and Courtney Robertson as Maureen. Bottom row, from left: Aidan Stern as Mark, Nathaniel Holmes as Tom, Natalia Gordon as Roger and Courtney Poulos as Joanne. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

A labor of love

One of longest-running shows in Broadway history, “Rent” is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s beloved opera “La Boheme” (1896), which itself unfolded beneath the shadow of tuberculosis.

Beal, who co-directs with Ron Himes, the PAD’s Henry E. Hampton, Jr. Artist-in-Residence, noted that the WashU production was impacted by the rise of the COVID-19 variant omicron. Auditions were held last fall, but the delayed start of in-person classes this spring pushed both rehearsals and the opening date back several weeks.

“This is an emotional show, a big rock musical,” Beal said. Yet rehearsing in masks is both physically taxing and a significant acting challenge. “There are serious moments, passionate moments, tragic moments — and all that has to be communicated through the eyes and body. It’s been a labor of love, but it’s also a lot of work!”

The story centers on Mark, an aspiring documentarian, and Roger, an HIV-positive former rock star. But when their old roommate, Benny, becomes landlord, he threatens eviction unless the pair can convince Maureen, a neighboring performance artist, to call off a protest that she and her girlfriend, Joanne, are planning over Benny’s gentrifying cyberarts studio. Meanwhile, Angel, an HIV-positive drag performer, discovers the vagabond anarchist Tom beaten in an alleyway, while Roger resists a new relationship with Mimi, an exotic dancer and former addict.

Himes noted that while medical and cultural advances have lessened the stigma around HIV and AIDS, the question of how society grapples — or fails to grapple — with the reality of illness remains frustratingly potent.

“The world has changed in a lot of ways,” Himes said. “But we still have people living with HIV and AIDS. And with the COVID pandemic, we’re still seeing a certain level of political stigmatization.

“So in other ways, the world has changed very little.”

Cast and crew

The cast of 17 stars Aidan Stern and Natalia Gordon as Mark and Roger, with Alim Merchant as Benny and Danielle Bryden as Mimi. Courtney Robertson and Courtney Poulos are Maureen and Joanne. Matthew Kalmans and Nathaniel Holmes are Angel and Tom.

Rounding out the ensemble, in a variety of roles, are Zach Berger, Sarah Del Carmen Camacho, Duryn Dunbar, Jo Palisoc, Daniel Schefer, Amanda Sherman, Nina Silverstein, Kyra Sorkin and Izzy Williams.

Costumes are by Brad Musgrove, with scenic design by Margarey and Peter Spack. Props are by Emily Frei. Lighting design is by Seth Kleinberg and Dylan McKenna, with sound design by Jack Maleczka. Musical direction is by Henry Palkes. Liv Jacobs is assistant director. Stage manager is Sabrina Spence.


Performances of “Rent” will begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 3, 4 and 5; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 5 and 6. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd.

Tickets are $20, or $15 for seniors, students and WashU faculty and staff, and free for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office. For information about campus COVID-19 policies, click here.

For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit

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