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What to Expect From Tonight's Virtual Rent Gala at New York Theatre Workshop

Artistic director Jim Nicola gives us a preview of the event, which will stream through March 6.

The original cast of Rent
(© Joan Marcus)

It's been 25 years since Jonathan Larson's Rent burst onto the scene, forever changing the landscape of the American musical and ushering in a new generation of artists and theatergoers. If you think that's hard to believe, imagine being Jim Nicola. Nicola is the longtime artistic director of New York Theatre Workshop, where Larson's seminal project debuted in 1996 following its author's tragic death and before taking Broadway by storm. He's spent the past several months enmeshed in the Rent universe, something that he had not done for quite a while, to prepare for a silver celebration that kicks of tonight, March 2.

25 Years of Rent: Measured in Love will serve as New York Theatre Workshop's 2021 gala. It will begin streaming at tonight, and will be available across the planet through March 6, with tickets starting at $26. "Thousands of people," Nicola says, have already signed up for the show, which is no doubt going to be an emotional gathering, particularly for the Rentheads among us.

"It's interesting to be thrust back into the essence of what Rent is in a deeper way than I have been in a very long time," Nicola says. "The piece itself does what I think a substantive work of art should do, which is, it transcends the time that it was created, and it has resonance and meaning in different cultures." And it's taken on even more of a meaning in our current world, which is largely devoid of personal connection.

Viewers can expect a lengthy list of performers during the event. Nearly all of the original Rent cast will be on hand, a list that includes then-rising stars and now marquee-names like Anthony Rapp (Mark), Idina Menzel (Maureen), Adam Pascal (Roger), and Daphne Rubin-Vega (Mimi). So will a wide swath of alums, ranging from Neil Patrick Harris (Mark on tour) to Annaleigh Ashford (Maureen in the revival) to Brandon Victor Dixon (Collins in Rent on Fox). Joe Iconis, the Bengsons, and Rona Siddiqui will perform original compositions, and guests will also include the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Billy Porter, and Ben Platt. The starry guest list, Nicola notes, "is a positive result of this strange time."

One of the event's centerpieces will be a global tribute to Rent in the form of a recorded performance, the title of which Nicola will not divulge, "gathering cast members from companies all over the planet." It's an element that is unique to now — "I don't know that it would have happened in a more traditional, gather-in-a-fancy-restaurant kind of benefit," he says — but it's one that hits on the core focus of the Rent ethos. "Rent is about the need for community, the need to gather together and find a tribe, especially when you feel that you're not part of the recognized or understood tribal gatherings," he concludes. "That speaks to where we are now. We're all desperately in need to get together."

25 Years of Rent: Measured in Love will go live at 8pm ET on Tuesday, March 2, and will be available until 8pm ET on Saturday, March 6. Click here to purchase tickets.