In a time of hatred and intolerance, “Rent” is celebrating individuality and love.
“It’s about connection and relationships and loss and love and life and what it means to live,” said Danny Harris Kornfeld, an actor in the 20th anniversary tour of the musical kicking off Monday at the IU Auditorium.
Kornfeld’s character Mark Cohen is one of the main personalities in a cast of struggling artists living in the East Village of New York City. Inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème,” writer Jonathan Larson created each of the main characters as a parallel to the 1986 opera.
Painter Marcello is filmmaker Mark Cohen, poet Rodolfo is musician Roger Davis, seamstress Mimì is club dancer Mimi Márquez, and singer Musetta is performance artist Maureen Johnson. The only two characters without their own love interests in the opera, Schaunard and Colline, are put together by Larson as gay couple Angel Schunard and Tom Collins.
The actors of “Rent” share the same artistic aspirations as the characters they play, Kornfeld said.
“You want to be doing good work and you want to be known for it, but you want to be known for doing the right kind of work,” Kornfeld said. “You want to be doing something that is both fulfilling and that hopefully sends a good message.”
For Kornfeld, acting in “Rent” fits that bill. He said he believes in the message of no judgment or labels — just being who you want and being loved for it.
The advantage of a traveling show is they can spread that message to the widest range of audience members possible, Kornfeld said. The cast and crew of “Rent” will tour until June 25, they will perform the show 269 times, and they will hit every major city in the country and go to Tokyo for three weeks.
Living in New York City is like living in a bubble of acceptance, Kornfeld said. Sometimes he forgets the rest of the country isn’t necessarily as inclusive to other people’s lifestyles, and he said he wants to let viewers who might not be accepted realize that people like them are out there.
“I think it will totally give people hope that one day they’re going to find their people, whether it’s that night, the next day, two years or five years later,” Kornfeld said.
The late ’80s and early ’90s music of the show gives it a sound different from anything prior in musical theater, Kornfeld said. The soundtrack incorporates several genres, from punk to pop to gospel to R&B, but the main sound of “Rent” is rock.
“There’s something with rock music,” Kornfeld said. “There’s a passion in it and there’s an angst in it and there’s an unsettledness in it, and I think there’s a discontent with that, of people wanting more.”
The show also deals with the darker issue of AIDS. Kornfeld said his character has a fear of being left alone when all of his friends are gone, as he watches them continue to die from the disease.
When he was nine years old, Kornfeld’s parents first played him the soundtrack to “Rent,” he said. He had never heard of AIDS and did not know what being gay meant, so he went to his mother to explain it all.
He asked her how Angel and Tom only met each other once, knew they both were gay and fell in love. She told him they just knew.
Kornfeld said he is excited to have “Rent” be a door that opens for children to start their own conversations about homosexuality and different lifestyles. The show will let them know that being different can be celebrated.
“We’ve said it before that love always wins, and I truly believe that,” Kornfeld said. “If we would love more, there would be a lot more peace on this earth.”