Atlanta Music Scene

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'Rent' and its resonating messages return to the Fox Theatre on 20th anniversary tour


Lyndie Moe was 6 years old the first time she sang the national anthem in public.

That it happened to be in front of an arena full of people at a Denver Nuggets game (her grandfather Doug was the team’s coach from 1980-1990) is testament to her early ease in the spotlight.

Moe, 20, stepped into the role of Maureen Johnson, the feisty bisexual performance artist, last fall as “Rent” began a new national run in continued celebration of its 20th anniversary in 2016.

The musical, with its gripping book by Jonathan Larson (loosely based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme”), transformed Broadway when it arrived in 1996. When the show closed 12 years later, it had played 5,123 performances, grossed more than $280 million and earned four Tony Awards.

Most importantly, its story of a group of scrappy young artists living in New York City’s East Village during the early devastating years of HIV/AIDS spotlighted an epidemic many were heretofore content to ignore.

The show’s messages of love and living life to its fullest — as detailed in the still-thrilling “Seasons of Love” — have only amplified in the two decades since the introduction of “Rent.”

The show returns to the Fox Theatre for its anniversary performance Feb. 20 and will play there through Feb. 28.

Last week, the vivacious Moe, a Kansas native who grew up in Delaware, checked in before a bus ride to the tour’s next stop in Kentucky, to talk about the resilience of “Rent,” portraying a character made famous by the beloved Idina Menzel and spreading the love.

Q: You weren’t even born when “Rent” first arrived! How much preparation did you do after you landed the role?

A: I’ve done so much research about it. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of stories, and our director showed us a documentary he made when the AIDS epidemic was happening and informed us about it. I feel like I know significantly what “Rent” is about. … Sometimes we do meet and greets after the show, and those times can get really emotional because people share their stories about why “Rent” impacted them so much and they start crying and then we all start crying. It’s just a constant reminder how we have to give our full selves into this journey.

Q: You had a rapid ascension, from being in college to getting the role last fall. How did that unfold?

A: A couple of my friends were going into the city (New York) to audition (for the show) and invited me. I’m still shocked. I went to school at Ryder University and was studying musical theater. I’m so thankful I went there, because my voice teacher was a huge impact in helping me land this part when I had voice callbacks and had to sing the songs. I was just hoping to get into the show, but the only parts I could have played were Maureen or (her) understudy. I was hoping for that, because I never in a million years thought I would get the actual role.

Q: Did any of the friends you went with land roles?

A: They didn’t. But they were super supportive and I can tell they weren’t that upset.

Q: Did you look to clips of Idina (Menzel) for inspiration?

A: During the whole process, I watched the movie a million times and the live film on YouTube and watched a whole bunch of other people do it on YouTube. I was getting inspiration, but I really did bring myself into the role. Idina is a huge icon, but I know I brought a bunch of myself. I have a blast playing that role. (Maureen) is such a feminist and an advocate for equal rights and speaks up for what she believes in.

Q: Are you seeing generations of fans at the shows?

A: We’ve had a lot of parents who saw the original Broadway production and they bring their kids now, and I LOVE that. It’s so interesting that you get to share this love with a show and pass that down. “Rent” is the “Hamilton” of its day. And some people will still leave at intermission if they think the subject matter is too “out there.” The fact that people are still offended by some of it …

Q: The show happened to be off the night of the shooting in Florida. But how hard is it for you as a performer — especially a young one — to compartmentalize and go on with the show when something so tragic happens?

A: When the Las Vegas shooting happened (in October), we had a show that next night and I remember all of us were just crying during “Seasons of Love.” It was really, really hard to do it. But that’s another reason why it’s so important to get this message out there. We’re surrounded by this hate and you need to show love, and it needs to be poured into the world.

THEATER PREVIEW

“Rent”

Feb. 20-28. 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20-22 and Feb. 27-28; 8 p.m. Feb. 23; 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 24; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25. $30-$145.50. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, www.foxtheatre.org.


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About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers the Atlanta Music Scene and entertainment news for print and online.