Backstage with Benjamin Moore of 'Rent'

What happens when you take a look at the lives of seven struggling New Yorkers in the process of chasing their passions? Quite a lot actually, and that’s an understatement. In Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer-winning Rent, we see just how much can change when the odds are against you in the shadow of an epidemic. 

Now, more than 20 years since its creation Rent is taking center stage to light our candle at Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. I was fortunate to speak with Benjamin Moore who is reprising the role of Mr. Jefferson, Joanne’s father, for a second season as well as being the male season soloist to get his take on the season’s production. To him, many of the themes in Rent still ring true after all this time.

Benjamin Moore. Photo by Brian Jones

Benjamin Moore. Photo by Brian Jones

“What’s interesting and somewhat ironic to me is how relevant the show still is 20 plus years following the Broadway debut in 96,” he remarked. “Just universal things that apply and are relevant regardless of your background — your ethnic background, your religious background, that kind of stuff. Things like love. Living your life and each day as if it’s your last. Measuring your life in love and not judging people based off differences, but embracing and accepting those differences. These things are still very, very relevant.” 

For many Rent fans, or Rentheads, it can be difficult to imagine new faces taking up such beloved roles, particularly if they came to know Rent through the film adaptation of 2005. With stunning performances from the likes of Rosario Dawson, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, and even Taye Diggs, it’s hard to imagine someone bringing life to these and many other characters in the show, but with Moore’s experience with the production, he’s confident that audiences will continue to love the efforts of the entire cast.

“Each actor’s body and each actor’s interpretation is slightly different, and so what we bring to the table is kind of a combination of what we’re given direction wise from our director, but of course each actor brings on his or her own personal experiences to these roles, and so that sometimes plays out differently on the stage than what most people are used to,” Moore explained. “One of the cool things about performing is — it can be scary sometimes, but I think it’s cool — is if we’re doing it right, when you’re an actor you’re literally just bearing your soul for the world to see. I think, in order for it to read as true and honestly as it should, you have to be really vulnerable and go inside to find how you connect to these characters. When we all come together for this common goal — and I think Rent is such a passion piece anyway — people who are in it usually have a strong passion and connection to it, and we become a family. We just get to know each other. We get comfortable. We have to take risks in the rehearsals, we have to take risks on the stage, and sometimes we’re crying because we’re so connected to the piece. And to really do that, you have to feel safe with your castmates and they have to allow you to feel safe with them as well.”

(L to R) Javon King, Devinré Adams  for the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour. Photo by Carol Rosegg

(L to R) Javon King, Devinré Adams for the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Finding a connection to Rent isn’t hard. Countless Texans can relate to the focal points of Rent in one way or another, whether it’s the struggle of trying to survive in a city that values profits over people, riding the roller coaster of being an independent creative, or facing the reality of HIV/AIDS, which took the lives of more than 1,300 people in Texas alone in 2016. Moore, too, has had to reflect on his connection to the themes presented in Rent and how it adds to his performance.

“Some of the folks in our show came to discover Rent at a very, very young age. I didn’t discover it at a super young age,” he admitted. “I saw the movie first and I didn’t see the musical until 2018. It was right before I got cast, right before I started auditioning. I had an uncle pass from AIDS when I was a boy. One of the central themes of the show is focused around the AIDS epidemic in the states, which was claiming a lot of lives unfortunately. So that whole piece has a very special connection to me, thinking about my uncle who we lost to the disease. So getting to provide a voice and speak for all these people that were marginalized and looked down upon by some people in society for some of the choices they made — it’s cool to speak and provide a voice. We had a woman on the second half of [the 2018 tour], who told us ‘thank you guys so much for telling this story it means so much to us. I lost my husband to AIDS back in the 80s.’ It’s cool to hear those stories about how it’s not only personal to us but personal to a lot of other people and how it reads — how our passion for it reads and translates from the stage.”

The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour. Photo by Carol Rosegg

For those looking to see Moore and the entire cast bring Rent to life, the production will run at the Hobby Center, August 6-11. In keeping with the tradition and legacy of Rent, a limited number of seats in the first two rows of the orchestra section will be available for $25 for every performance. The $25 tickets are available for in-person purchases at the Hobby Center Box Office, located at 800 Bagby, Houston, TX 77002, on the day of each performance only, two hours prior to the show. The $25 tickets are available for cash only purchase and are limited to two tickets per person.

The tradition of these tickets began in 1996, when the show moved to Broadway after a sold-out run at the New York Theatre Workshop. Producing partners Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum wanted the show to be accessible for people “in their 20s and 30s, artists, Bohemians—the people for whom Jonathan Larson wrote the show,” according to Seller. Originally, at every performance, two rows’ worth of prime seats were sold at $20 apiece. The producers of this show are committed to continuing the tradition of offering these orchestra seats in each city the show will play.

Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set unafraid to take on topics head on. He now resides in Austin, TX and continues to create content on a daily basis.