'Rent' premiere is overdue
Czech musical stars tackle American hit based on 'La bohème'
Posted: August 21, 2013
Courtesy Photo: Martin J. Polák
Roman Tomeš and Markéta Procházková as Roger Davis and Mimi Marquez in the musical Rent.
English-language theater in Prague can be hit and miss. The current production of the musical Rent at divadlo Na prádle - in English with Czech supertitles - is a hit and on a par with an off-Broadway production. Even though the play is almost a decade old, this is the Czech premiere of the award-winning musical.
Much of the cast is Czech, with experience from Czech musical theater and performing in English for the first time. Typical for Czech theater, the cast is slightly different each night, since Czech actors appear in multiple productions at once.
Director Steve Josephson broke down the fourth wall of the stage, with actors appearing on the balcony and at times going out into the audience to panhandle or do some bit of business. This helped to draw the audience into the ensemble tale of struggling artists and street people. It also keeps the show from growing claustrophobic, as the rather small stage becomes a bit jammed when a dozen or so actors appear at once for the big ensemble numbers
Josephson has three decades of experience in the theater ranging from productions that played at the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe to a two-and-a-half year project for Lucasfilm that resulted in Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes. His previous work in Prague includes Sweeney Todd and The Glass Menagerie.
When: Aug. 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31
Where: Divadlo Na prádle, Besední 3, Prague 1
Tickets: 490-690 Kč
The set itself is on the spartan side, with a few multipurpose tables and plastic crates quickly being transformed from the interior of a loft apartment in New York City's Alphabet City in the late 1980s to a street scene and then to a performance space, among other locales. At one point, the tables and crates are used to evoke Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, with most of the major characters sitting for a meal and facing the audience.
Graffiti designs on a door on the back of the stage suggest the work of Keith Haring, a street artist who died of complications related to AIDS in 1990. The HIV virus is one of the main themes of the play, with several characters early on admitting they have the virus, going to a support group or taking AZT, the one drug at the time that was effective in slowing its progress.
Unlike some Czech productions of Broadway shows, the music was performed live by a small ensemble just offstage and not piped in from a recording. This was a big plus taking Rent up to the level of a professional show.
The costumes, looking like cast-off clothes and secondhand store bargains, also come together to evoke the era when the lettered avenues that give Alphabet City its name were a haven for struggling artists, immigrants and drug addicts - a modern-day Bohemia, as the word is used in La bohème, the Puccini opera that inspired Rent. The Bohemian residents find themselves pitted against forces pushing to gentrify Alphabet City by forcing squatters and other "undesirables" out, the ravages of HIV and the endless demands of trying to make money while keeping true to their ideals. The action takes place over the course of one year, or as the showstopper tune "Seasons of Love" puts it: 525,600 minutes. The first act covers events around Christmas, while the second act picks up the pace quite a bit. As the title implies, finding money to pay the rent the building owner suddenly and unexpectedly demands makes up a main arc in the plot.
A standout among the cast was Markéta Procházková as Mimi, an exotic dancer who is the main love interest for Roger, a musician hoping to write one good song before he dies. Procházková appears in the final three performances of the show, Aug. 29, 30 and 31. Her previous experience includes appearances in Czech productions of Miss Saigon, Grease and Tři Mušketýři (Three Musketeers). Oldřich Anton Vojta also scored well as the drag queen Angel. He plays the role again Aug. 22, 23 and 30.
One drawback is that the actors' level of English varies quite a bit, and some of the accents mixed with the at times loud music make a few plot points a bit hard to grasp. Reading a plot summary in advance might be a good idea if you are not familiar with the play and can't keep up with the Czech supertitles.
Rent was first produced in a limited run in 1994 before opening off-Broadway in 1996, and then quickly moving to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre. Jonathan Larson, who wrote the music, lyrics and book for the play died just before the off-Broadway premiere due to an undiagnosed heart condition. The play won a Pulitzer Prize for drama, and three Tony Awards in 1996.
Raymond Johnston can be reached at
Tags: Rent, Lucasfilm, AZT, AIDS, Broadway, Jonathan Larson.