Produced by Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum, Allan S. Gordon, and New York Theatre Workshop, and presented by Broadway Series South, the Benny Tour Rent returns to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium Jan. 2-4 for five performances. Jonathan Larson’s landmark Broadway rock musical posthumously won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 1996 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book, the 1996 Theatre World Award, and many, many other honors.

Warning: Rent deals frankly with controversial issues and has adult themes. It is not recommended for children under 13.

Rent is a bittersweet look at the state of the arts in the Big Apple in a time of plague (i.e., AIDS and rampant drug addiction) and capitalism run amok. This message musical gets some of its poignancy from the fact that its youthful creator, Jonathan Larson, died unexpectedly from a ruptured aortic aneurysm just 10 days before his 36th birthday and one day before Rent‘s first performance Off Broadway. (Rent opened at Nederlander Theatre on Broadway on April 29, 1996 and is still playing there, with almost 3,200 performances so far.)

Larson based Rent on the 1896 opera La Bohème by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). La Bohème chronicles the star-crossed love of two Left Bank bohemians, Rodolfo and the tubercular Mimi, in 19th-century Paris. Rent is set in the mid-1990s in New York City’s East Village, where starving artists many of them drug addicts and/or HIV+ squatters in abandoned and rundown buildings battle money-mad Yuppie real estate developers for the future of their ersatz artists’ colony.

Directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by original Marlies Yearby both of whom received Tony nominations for their work on the original Broadway production the Benny Tour features musical direction and additional arrangements by Tim Weil, set designs by Paul Clay, costume designs by Angela Wendt, and lighting designs by Blake Burba all of whom worked on the Broadway production, for which Blake Burba also received a Tony nomination for Best Lighting Design.

Rent stars New York television actor Daryl Brown (“Days of Our Lives,” “Cosby,” “All My Children,” and “New York Undercover”) as greedy nouveau-riche landlord Benjamin Coffin III, regional-theater actress Leslie Diamond as feisty bisexual performance artist Maureen Johnson, and Syracuse University graduate Brian Gligor as documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen.

New York actor Marcus Paul James (Jesus Christ Superstar and West Side Story) plays computer guru and street-corner philosopher Tom Collins, recent N.C. School of the Arts graduate Rebecca Jones portrays lesbian public-interest attorney and political activist Joanne Jefferson, and New York University Tisch School of the Arts graduate Jaime Lee Kirchner appears as HIV+ exotic dancer and drug addict Mimi Marquez.

Other key performers include Constantine Moroulis as HIV+ guitarist/songwriter Roger Davis, and Damian DeShaun Smith as beautiful HIV+ transvestite club dancer Angel Schunard. Completing the cast are Jahmal Adderley, Aswad, Jeannette Bayardelle, Jeff Scott Carey, Dan Domenech, Joseph Michael Donohoe, Lesly Terrell Donald, Badia Farha, Erin Greiner, Genny Padilla, Aswad Sallie, Daniel Shevlin, and Suzanne Slade in the ensemble.

In describing the original Broadway production of Rent, a Newsweek Magazine writer brilliantly summed up the show’s enduring audience appeal: “The homeless, the addicts and alkies move like oracular nomads among the ‘artistes’ (as a homeless woman scornfully calls them), who don’t know where their next rent check is coming from, or their next inspiration for a song or a picture, or the next lethal raid by the specter of AIDS. Yet Rent is a thrilling, positive show. In a rich stream of memorable songs, Larson makes true theater music from the eclectic energies of today’s pop-rock, gospel, reggae, salsa, even a tango.”

Broadway Series South presents Rent Friday, Jan. 2, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 3, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Thursday, Jan. 4, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $16-$41. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Ticketmaster: 919/834-4000 or Group Sales: 919/231-4575 or Broadway Series South: Interrnet Broadway Database: Broadway Show: National Tour: [inactive 5/04].