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‘Revolution Rent': Doc Traces How a Hit Broadway Play Helped Bridge Cuba and LGBTQ Culture (Video)

Andy Señor Jr.’s documentary on the historic 2014 production is streaming on HBO Max

In December 2014, Andy Señor Jr., a member of the original Broadway cast of “Rent,” staged the beloved musical in his native Cuba. It was the country’s first American production in 50 years and its last since. Señor’s new Neil Patrick Harris-produced documentary, “Revolution Rent,” details the process of preparing the show amid personal and political complications. 

A tale of impoverished NYC artists struggling to survive against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, “Rent” became a generation-defining musical following its 1996 premiere. The show’s rock sound, diverse cast and taboo themes resonated with a whole new audience of theatergoers who did not see themselves in the Disney adaptations and old-school revivals that dominated Broadway in the 1990s. 

Señor originated the role of Angel Dumott Schunard, a drag queen percussionist who if you’re familiar with his namesake from “La Boheme” – the opera the Tony-winning musical is loosely based on – then you know he has a tragic end. 

“Revolution Rent” documents Señor’s mission to bring “Rent,” to Havana, a place with a spotty history in regards to not just U.S. imports but LGBTQ acceptance as well. However, the actor felt he had the opportunity to not only introduce Cuban artists to the magic of the show but use it as a bridge between the two cultures. As the documentary shows, Señor’s decision became a source of fear for his refugee parents and even himself.

“I was like, ‘Is this detrimental to me and my community? Will they see this as a disrespect to their history?'” Señor recalled to Variety, “That was definitely real, but for me, it was a risk I had to take. I had to do it.”

The result is what Señor has referred to as a “time capsule” of a turning point in Cuban history. 

The show was staged during President Barack Obama’s second term, opening just a week after the administration announced the beginning of the process to normalize relations between the nations. A few months later, Cuba was removed from the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism and an American embassy in Havana was reopened. 

But then, Donald Trump took office in 2016 and began to reverse some of those steps, such as banning certain business deals and tightening travel restrictions to the country. Fidel Castro, the one-time guerrilla fighter who led the transformation of Cuba into a Communist nation in the late 1950s, died that year.

Since the Cuban production, Señor also brought “Rent” to South Korea in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s explained that although all creative endeavors inevitably involve compromise, he takes pride in preserving the honest, groundbreaking nature of late composer Jonathan Larson’s work.

“My first rule, always, is if it’s not ‘Rent’ the way Jonathan wrote it, I’m not doing it.” he said to Variety.

“Revolution Rent” is now available to stream on HBO Max. Watch the trailer below.