By the early 1990s, the Western world was reeling from the impact that the HIV/AIDS virus was having on the population as more and more people were dying from the disease. Amid this health crisis, Jonathan Larson began work-shopping his new play, Rent, which traces the lives of young artists living in New York City’s rough Alphabet City amid poverty and the AIDS epidemic. After three years of rewrites, Rent made its Broadway debut in April 1996. The groundbreaking musical not only won multiple Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize but also became one of the longest-running plays on Broadway and launched the careers of Jesse L. Martin, Taye Diggs, and Idina Menzel, among others.
Santa Barbarans can see the trailblazing play when Broadway in Santa Barbara presents Rent as the finale of its 2018 season. Javon King, who plays drag queen Angel Dumott Schunard, is thrilled to be part of the touring production. “I have loved [Angel] ever since I was first introduced to Rent, which was the  movie. It was a dream role for me — being able to do the show and travel with it and spread this message to all across the world and to small cities in the United States.”
As for the play’s relevance 20 years on, King believes it to still be of crucial importance. After a recent show, a woman approached the actor to tell him how she was touched by his performance and by the play in general because her husband died of AIDS back in 1990. “People will come up to us and say things like that or have stories that are very similar to Angel passing or Mimi almost passing,” said King. “It really puts me in a humbling place remembering that this story is real and it happened to people. … It’s really great that the show is still around because it shines a light on issues that need to be continued to talk about.”
Rent plays Tuesday, June 11, 7:30 p.m., at The Granada Theatre, 1214 State St. Call 899-2222 or see granadasb.org.