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Slow Burn's 'Rent' to benefit Pride Center

Slow Burn presenting “Rent” benefit for Pride Center.

The rent is always due.

That's the central philosophy of the rock musical "Rent," being produced by Slow Burn Theatre for a run in West Boca through April 26, according to the show's director Patrick Fitzwater.

"Love is always due," Fitzwater says. "Death is always due. Disease is always due. That's where the title comes from. There is always something to pay."

He goes on to say that when "Rent" bowed on Broadway in 1996, the show put HIV-AIDS back at the forefront of a national conversation. So Slow Burn Theatre has designated their Friday, April 24 performance as "Pride Night," when a portion of the ticket sales will be donated to support HIV-related programs and services from the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors.

"Jonathan Larson [the show's creator] was this fresh new composer writing about all his artists friends," Fitzwater says. "They're living the bohemian life: gay, straight, lesbian, drag queens. AIDS was in the forefront of what was affecting the community. So he wrote this show based off of a lot of his friends. You can see the start of this work in 'Tick, Tick … Boom!' [the 2001 off-Broadway musical], which was a prequel of sorts or foreshadowing of what he was going through."

Fitzwater adds that he and partner Matthew Korinko have made the troupe's mission to produce daring contemporary musicals such as "Carrie," "High Fidelity," "Next to Normal," "Urinetown," "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" and "Bat Boy" since Slow Burn Theatre was founded in 2009.

"We do a lot of shows that … have a gay interest with the subject matter," Fitzwater says. "'Rent' has never been done down here by a professional theater. It's toured a couple of times, but no regional theater has done it. It was logical that we should take this on. We're a gay-friendly theater run by two gay men. It just seemed a very apparent thing to pair up with Pride Center, since we're partnering up with Broward Center going into next year with shows like 'Big Fish,' 'Violet,' 'Spring Awakening' and 'Heathers.' We'll be right there next to the gay community … and we're building up a relationship with that community."

Fitzwater says it has been a challenge educating his young cast about how HIV-AIDS was seen during the time that "Rent" first made headlines, winning four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996.

"[HIV-AIDS] is still very present and very much a danger, but it's not the taboo it was, and it's not an immediate death sentence," he says. "I told [the cast] that these people you're portraying, they found out they had AIDS and they were given six months. Treat this show as if time is running out and what are you going to do with the time you have left. They had never heard of the movie 'Philadelphia' with Tom Hanks. I had them watch 'Gia' with Angelina Jolie. They were stunned. They kept saying, 'I never knew how it was back then.' This is how diseases fire back up, because we lose the steam behind the education."

The Pride Night performance of "Rent" will take place 8 p.m. Friday, April 24 at the West Boca Performing Arts Theatre (at West Boca Raton Community High School), 12811 Glades Road, in Boca Raton. Showtimes during the rest of the run are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets cost $25-$40 (patrons must enter the code "PRIDE" when ordering for Pride Night). To order, call 866-811-4111 or go to SlowBurnTheatre.org.

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