They're young, they're poor; they're living in New York City with all sorts of big dreams. It's the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning musical Rent making a grand tour of the country in a 20th anniversary touring production that thanks to Broadway at the Hobby is coming to Houston this August.
What made it so memorable was that all those grand aspirations were mixed in with the gritty reality of being HIV positive and the AIDS crisis as seen in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. "It’s really a show that was the voice of a generation of that time. One that still resonates today," says actor Cody Jenkins who plays Mark Cohen
Asked to describe his character he says: "He’s a young Jewish boy that is loving his artistic bohemian life. He has foreseen his future as a wonderful filmmaker and artist. He really kind of tries to put himself in the center of his group of friends. He wants to catch and document everyone’s life. He’s one that’s loving the life that he has, even though they constantly lose power."
Jenkins laughed when asked if he identifies with Mark in any way. "Yeah, absolutely, the young aspiring artist. His drive is very relatable to me." Jenkins has lived in and out of New York City for the past three to four years and describes holding down a day job while going to auditions and rehearsals. "There's so much hustle and bustle to that life."
Known for its iconic music — "Seasons of Love, " "Take Me or Leave Me," "I'll Cover You" — Rent sets itself at a heightened moment of time by placing it in the days around Christmas, Jenkins says.
Growing up, Jenkins spent a lot of time in sports (baseball, wrestling and football) but one summer his mother thought it would be a good idea for him to go to theater camp with his sister. "After I did West Side Story with a bunch of my friends at that camp I just learned what a family could feel like inside theater." When he returned to school he continued to be involved in theater.
He says a pivotal moment for him occurred when he was only 15 and got to play Jesus in Godspell. A woman in the audience came up to him afterward and told him how much the performance meant to her. "She had tears in her eyes. and she said 'I cannot thank you for what you did for me. You just changed my life. You opened my eyes to seeing Jesus in a whole new role.' That was very cool to me because whatever your belief system, for someone this was her religion, this was her belief system for so much of her life to have someone so young as I, I was 15, to have that capacity for power to change someone's life, I think that just totally changed my life in turn."
He went on to get his bachelors's of Fine Arts from Texas State University. Jenkins says the San Marcos-based school prepared him well for a career in professional theater. He was able to study classical acting styles in a broad spectrum of training, he says.
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Audiences continue to turn out for Rent, "because it is timeless," he says. "It's as important today as it was 24 years ago. There are many stories that are told inside the main story itself. There are many iconic songs that people love to hear or maybe they love to see that scene on stage. But what i really think keeps these people coming back I think it’s the love for the show and the love for the feeling they get when they see the show. "
" I just find that this show is so rich and filled with true ,true life. It's not a fairy tale and it's not fiction. It's really true and honest. Everyone can relate to it," Jenkins says.
"For those that maybe are hesitant about seeing the show, basically it’s a story that in a state of crises when so many things feel or are going wrong that there’s always a reason to love one another and take care of one another as human beings on Earth."
Performances are scheduled for August 6-11 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit broadwayatthehobbycenter.com or thehobbycenter.org. $30-$205.