According to the Dallas Morning News, following weeks of community debate, including a packed school board meeting where community members aired their worries, the Rowlett High School theatre director canceled the run.
"I need to think of my students first and foremost," director Brandon Tijerina wrote in a statement. "They are dealing with pressures that they don't need at their age. The best thing for my students is for me to cancel the show, not because of all of the controversy, but because I honestly truly care for my students."
The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by composer-lyricist-librettist Jonathan Larson concerns a group of bohemians who fall in and out of love in the age of AIDS. Inspired by the opera La Boheme, it features gay, straight and bi-sexual characters, drug addicts, HIV infection and free expression at "the end of the millennium," in the 1990s.
Licensed by Music Theatre International, Rent: School Edition (as the name suggests) is an edited version of the Tony Award-winning script and score, and is meant for high school audiences (some language is toned down, and the Act Two sex fantasy number has been cut). MTI gives the show an "R" rating, similar to movie ratings, aiming the show at more mature audiences.
In Rowlett, TX, there was both support and criticism of the programming choice, including concern about gay content. There was also worry about another plot point of the show: stealing. In Act Two of the show, an ATM is rewired by a principal character to spit out money to anyone who knows the secret code.
Pam LeTourneau, the parent of a Rowlett High School student, voiced her concern about the characters' stealing and disregard for authority, the paper reported. She said, "…When you deal with those different themes, it ought to be clear they're not glorified."
Ryan Clark, a senior who was cast in the show, told the paper, "As much as I think this community needs to know about what this show is saying, it's OK that we can't. We'll go on and hopefully put on another show."
Rowlett High School principal Marlene Hammerle wrote in a letter to the superintendent and school board Dec. 9 that director Tijerina "felt, as I do, that the division over this musical needs to stop now. I am so proud of our students and parents and I am especially proud of how they have handled the controversy. Hopefully, the discussion over Rent will end."
The cancellation is a surprise to some. A district committee had reviewed the material and unanimously found it appropriate, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Here's how MTI bills Rent: School Edition: "It follows a year in the lives of seven friends living the disappearing Bohemian lifestyle in New York's East Village. AIDS and both its physical and emotional complications pervade the lives of Roger, Mimi, Tom, and Angel; Maureen deals with her chronic infidelity through performance art; her partner, Joanne, wonders if their relationship is worth the trouble; Benjamin has sold out his Bohemian ideals in exchange for a hefty income and is on the outs with his former friends; and Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, feels like an outsider to life in general, always behind the camera recording the events but never playing a part. This adaptation has been carefully done, working with the Larson estate to retain the dramatic intent of the groundbreaking rock musical, and consists of minimal changes to language and the removal of one song ("Contact") to make it possible for many schools to perform this piece."
MTI's website lists almost 60 organizations that have presented, or plan to present, Rent: School Edition in North America. Visit mtishows.com.
The Broadway production of Rent closed in September 2008 after 12 years of performances at the Nederlander Theatre. A national tour starring original cast members Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal will launch in January 2009. Visit www.siteforrent.com.