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How the Revolution of ‘Rent’ Came to Cuba

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The enduring musical “Rent,” celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, didn’t just revolutionize Broadway. It had an impact all over the world — and the new documentary “Revolution Rent” reveals how the show came to Cuba just as the country was in the midst of a major political transition.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

“Cubans were able to see themselves on stage [in ‘Rent’],” said the film’s co-director, Andy Señor, Jr., in the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. “The issues they’re dealing with in the show are not very far from the issues they were dealing with for themselves, particularly for the Cuban actors whose lives were so mirrored by the characters in the show. Whether it be in the way that some of them were HIV positive, or the way they put their homes together. Even in the theater all the electrical appliances were plugged into one thick extension cord — the same as in the show!”

In “Revolution Rent,” Señor documents his time directing the first production of the musical in Havana, Cuba. It’s a tumultuous process in which the usual backstage ups-and-downs are compounded by the complicated dynamics with his own Cuban-American family, not to mention the political upheaval of Cuba’s relations with the U.S. being normalized while the show is in rehearsals.

In the new Stagecraft, Señor discusses the impact of “Rent” not just in Havana but on himself over the years that he played the character Angel in multiple productions, and went on to direct stagings around the world. “When ‘Rent’ came along, it was speaking to that generation [growing up at the tail end of the AIDS epidemic] and to those frustrations of connecting and loving. When I first saw ‘Rent,’ it was the first time I ever saw two men loving each other and taking care of each other.”

He also revealed one of the main reasons he continued to play Angel as long as he did: Broadway’s lack of onstage diversity. “At one point I was the only Hispanic in a leading role on Broadway,” he recalled. “And that went on for many years. So in a career where you’re like, ‘No, you don’t go back into the ensemble because you’re playing a leading role now,’ it’s like: ‘Yeah, but where do I go from here if there are no other leading roles that are available to me?’”

Also in the new Stagecraft, Señor talks Broadway memories, the post-pandemic relevance of “Rent,” and his thoughts on how Angel might identify given a 2021 understanding of the gender spectrum.

To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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