TALLINN - Jonathan Larson's "Rent" was first staged eight years ago in New York, where it won four Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize. As is signaled by the show's opening number - "La Vie Boheme" - Larson's Broadway musical is a modern version of Puccini's "La Boheme," the operatic tale of poverty and disease, and love and death.
"Rent" tells the story of a group of women and men whose lives have been rent asunder, and who are now living on borrowed time in the rented accommodation of the soul. It focuses on the experiences of people with AIDS - drag queens, junkies, hookers and queers - in New York in the 1980s and is a funny, heart-warming and heart-rending account of an illness which has affected all our lives for the last quarter of a century, and which afflicts some 40 million people today.
The new Estonian production premiered, appropriately enough, on Dec. 1 - World AIDS Day - at Tallinn's Club Hollywood, and plays on selected dates throughout the month. The show is performed in English.
"I believe that when a musical is so strongly written - with a combination of words and music by one artist - you would do it an injustice by translating it," says Georg Malvius, the production's Swedish director.
The cast's spirited and vigorous performances more than make up for the incongruous Estonian accents that underlie their East Village English: most powerfully as they chorus that they're "dying in America, at the end of the millennium" - and most poignantly when, at the end of the first act, they look forward to the New Year ahead and ask: "Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?"
Malvius has previously directed Martin Sherman's "Bent" in Estonia. First performed in 1979, Sherman's play is a classic and uncompromising chronicle of the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany. In directing "Rent," Malvius met challenges similar to those he faced with "Bent."
"I'm speaking about things which are important to me," he says. "I'm looking for pieces which are exciting - stories about human relationships, and sometimes in conservative Estonia these stories pose questions which people would like to avoid.
"Part of the audience start by fighting against the show. We had the same problem with "Bent." We had a lot of people coming in expecting to see a nice, funny play about gays. But they were so moved that they said it had been a cathartic moment in their lives when they left the theater."
Malvius' production remains true to the spirit of the original: It is a witty, vital and urgent assertion of love in a time of death - a timely reminder of the decimation of a generation, and of the continuing decimation of generations.
Throughout December at Club Hollywood, Tallinn
Visit: www.piletilevi.een for more info
Tickets 195 kroons (13 euros) for people aged 25 or below; 295 kroons for people over 25
(ID with date of birth
required at the entrance)
10 per cent of the ticket price will be donated to AIDS charities