‘No day but today’ hits hard as National Theatre’s ‘Rent’ reflects on pandemic

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Rent' at National Theatre (Part 1)

Playwright Jonathan Larson wrote that the opposite of war isn’t peace; it is creation.

It hits home as National Theatre hosts the national tour of “Rent” from Friday to Sunday.

“I was part of the tour before the pandemic … and we stopped cold turkey,” Actor James Schoppe told WTOP. “None of us take for granted being able to hear the ‘525,600 minutes’ moment. It’s so real. We’ve all experienced so much in the past two years. It’s just such a great reminder and such a great motto to live your life. There’s only so much time.”

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has parallels to the AIDS epidemic in the show.

“What better message to take away from the show than ‘no day but today?'” Schoppe said. “It’s crazy how relevant this show is. … It’s truly wild that we have something that is such a legacy piece that is still a period piece as a timestamp of what the ’90s were and where we were as a society, but still it’s such an important cultural reference for us today.”

Set in the United States at the end of the millennium, the show follows bohemians in the East Village of New York City struggling with gentrification, love and loss amid the HIV crisis.

“We follow a group of different bohemian artists through their different struggles of equality and we’re all facing a money issue,” Schoppe said. “It’s a really important story of love and relationships and, just at the root of everything, if we can’t all lead and leave the world with love and see all of the love out there, then there’s not much point to the world.”

Larson sadly didn’t live to see it, dying the night before the first Off-Broadway preview.

“Jonathan Larson truly was a visionary in the theater world and just in the world itself, dealing with such important issues of equality and freedom to love whoever you went,” Schoppe said. “He was creating these outlets and amplified voices … to see queer people on stage in a mainstream musical we weren’t necessarily seeing.”

The songbook is iconic, including “Seasons of Love,” “One Song Glory,” “I’ll Cover You,” “Out Tonight,” “La Vie Bohème,” “Take Me or Leave Me” and “What You Own.”

“The musical itself is a rock opera that has various styles,” Schoppe said. “We have a tango, we have all these different things. … It’s awesome that he really crafted a musical that, for everyone’s ear, there is something to hear. You never get tired of the stylings.”

Schoope grew up in Stafford, Virginia, and attended Brooke Point High School.

“I was a young kid in high school in the early 2000s,” Schoppe said. “Our drama teacher said, ‘There’s a really cool musical that’s being made into a movie.’ All of us went out to see the movie in the fall of 2005. … They had the tour in 2006, so I got to go see it with my mom in D.C. … Being a part of the show years later is a cool full-circle moment.”

The proximity also allows family and friends to drive up to watch.

“Any time that my mom can drive up with a busload of people is always exciting,” Schoppe said. “I’ve had high school teachers, I’ve had people from church, people from my parents’ work, different friends that I’ve had the experience of growing up and doing theater with as well. It’s been really exciting for them to be able to come see the show.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Rent' at National Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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