-- Though the season here is winter, it is still
"Seasons of Love" in the production of RENT,
which comes to the Motor City in the Detroit Opera House from
February 17-22. The play, written by the late Jonathan Larsen,
follows the lives and loves of several twentysomethings who
are also artists living in an apartment building in New York
City in the 1990s. The characters, which includes an musician,
a filmmaker, a live performance artist and a lawyer, cope
with the AIDS and HIV virus as well as homelessness while
starving and struggling to make it big in the Big Apple
"You see these young people trying to make it,"
said Jacques C. Smith, "but their careers aren't going
anywhere. How do they tried to get their voices today when
they're sick? How can they get voices heard?"
Smith's character, Benny, was also portrayed by Taye Diggs,
whom Smith replaced in 1997 when Diggs started shooting the
film version of Terry McMillian's How Stella Got Her Groove
Back. Diggs starred in both the Broadway production and
2005 film version; Smith returned for the recent stage tour
two months ago. Benny is the landlord of his friends' building,
but is accused by them of being selling out: going corporate
and business-like now that he's successful. Since 1997, Smith
has replaced Diggs in the role and stayed for 2 1/2 years.
He then went to co-starred on HBO's acclaimed prison drama
Oz for two seasons, and guest-starred on shows such
as Law & Order, which RENT alum Jesse
L. Martin (Tom Collins) played as Det. Ed Green for nine seasons.
Like Diggs, Martin also reprised his role in the stage and
"[Jesse is] Incredible to work with," Smith compliments.
"He's a fantastic guy; can't say anything negative about
When RENT made its way onto the big screen in 2005,
there was a mixed reception among the public, who thought
they came to see an feelgood, light-hearted musical, not one
that is dark and depressing. The film version only grossed
$30 million in the U.S. box office, but it has continue to
develop a cult following since then.
"Some movies," Smith states, "are written as
screenplays. Even when you come to the play, you still feel
uplifted. There are still dark elements, people die, and there's
still homelessness. [You can] Find darkness and bad within
light and goodness; [you can] find perservance in the end."
Still, the message of RENT remains the same: "There's
No Day Like Today". Though the Broadway show has been
closed since September 2008 after 12 successful years, it
is still even more relevant now due to the Great Recession,
the rise in unemployment, job loss, mortgage, AIDS, and so
forth. After completing its run in the Detroit Opera House,
the cast and crew will then go to Los Angeles and start touring
all over the States through August, and then Japan.
"It touches people in that way," Smith continues.
"Jonathan Larsen wrote [RENT] for the stage;
that's the natural element. The stage version is very true
to the vision of Larsen."
CREDIT: Joan Marcus
Rapp and Adam Pascal in RENT