The first time musical theatre actor Juan Luis Espinal saw RENT in his home country of Dominican Republic, it blew him away.
“I remember watching the (RENT) movie and having so many feelings awakened in me,” said Espinal, who stars as Benjamin Coffin III in the Broadway Across Canada production of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour. “As an openly gay person, it touched many parts of me. And even today, the themes of HIV and AIDS are still very relevant.”
RENT 20th Anniversary is on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre until September 22. The Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning original rock musical follows the lives of seven artists who struggle to chase their dreams in New York City without selling out. The show first opened in 1996 and was ground-breaking at its time. Iconic songs include La Vie Boheme, Light My Candle, and Seasons of Love.
Written and composed by Johnathan Larson, it was a memorial to his friends who died from the AIDS epidemic. It also showcases a diverse cast and range of characters — black, brown, white, gay, straight, transexual, and bisexual people.
Espinal has performed in cities across Canada as part of the musical’s 20th anniversary, including Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary.
“Canada has been so lovely,” said Espinal, “Audiences have been so welcoming and give us great energy. RENT is a message is love, and the world needs lots of love.
“What’s important about RENT is the message of respecting and tolerating others. I performed RENT in Dominican Republic, and we got criticism for men kissing and women kissing onstage. You don’t have to agree with me being gay, but you should still respect me.”
Espinal began acting in his senior year of high school, and moved to New York to study acting in 2013. He explains that his greatest passion is musical theatre and the power of storytelling.
“RENT is a roller coaster of emotions,” added Espinal. “My favourite line in the show is ‘Give in to love or live in fear.’ It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. So we need to live in these 24 hours like it was out last day on Earth.
“I really hope audiences enjoy the show, and leave the theatre touched. Whether they’re longtime or new fans of RENT, I hope they learn something.”
Daily Hive is a proud media sponsor of the 2019 RENT 20th Anniversary Tour