Iconic ‘Rent’ lights a candle for its 20th anniversary

"A colorful, offbeat cast of characters and some rousing group and individual performances have made “Rent” a feast for the eyes and ears."

With the recent televised live version of “Rent,” the rock musical has reached a whole new generation of fans. While the iconic show is set in the late 1980s, its stories of finding love and following dreams speak to people of different ages.

The 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” will visit ASU Gammage from Tuesday, May 28, to Sunday, June 2.

A retelling of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” “Rent” follows a group of artists and friends in New York as they try to find their place in the world and are impacted by larger struggles such as the AIDS epidemic.

Developed by Jonathan Larson, the award-winning “Rent” features well-known songs such as “Seasons of Love,” “Take Me or Leave Me,” “La Vie Boheme,” “Tango: Maureen,” “Light My Candle,” “Today 4 U” and “I’ll Cover You.”

The national tour stars Joshua Bess as aspiring musician Roger Davis; Logan Marks, as filmmaker Mark Cohen; Lyndie Moe, as performance artist and protest leader Maureen Johnson; Javon King, as drag queen Angel Dumott Schunard; Marcus John, as yuppie landlord Benjamin Coffin III; Lencia Kebede, as lawyer Joanne Jefferson; Devinre Adams, as philosophy professor Tom Collins and Deri’Andra Tucker, as charismatic exotic dancer Mimi Marquez.

Originally from New Orleans, Tucker was a professional cheerleader for the Saints before debuting as an ensemble member and Michelle Morris understudy on a Korean tour of “Dreamgirls.” Mimi is Tucker’s first lead role on a national tour.

Tucker said the show is different from the live version and the film, but it ultimately tells a similar story. She said two decades later, the show still resonates with audiences.

“People not being accepted because they’ve chosen to live a certain lifestyle, taken a certain career path that is unusual to people around them or choosing to love who they choose to love, all of those issues are very relevant,” Tucker said.

Tucker hopes the show inspires audiences to accept others for who they are and be more compassionate to those who are struggling.

“I think ‘Rent’ shines a light on people who deal with these difficulties on a daily basis and what it’s like to live that life on the other side. You get to see it from their perspective. I think it opens up people’s minds and hearts,” Tucker said.

“Rent” continues to touch audiences of different ages. Tucker said she often sees family members of different generations watching the show. She takes great pride in being in the 20th anniversary cast.

“It is such an honor to be part of something that’s so iconic, so legendary,” she said. “Every day, I fall more and more in love with the show.”

She finds Mimi to be a physically and emotionally challenging role. To be able to sing and dance while swinging from bars, hanging upside down and kicking, Tucker runs at least 20 minutes a day and does crunches and sit ups. The actress has drawn from her life experiences when delving into emotional moments in the show.

“I thought about the people in my life who may have similar experiences as Mimi,” Tucker said. “I’ve watched people in my neighborhood be addicted to drugs and go through other trials and tribulations, so I was able to think of those issues and correlate the two. I could relate to some of it, as well, being young and in love. We all can relate to that and her relationship with Angel.”

Tucker said the role, and theater in general, has been very therapeutic for her.

“I’ve been forced to deal with some of the things in my life that I haven’t dealt with. I’m thankful for this role. It’s changed me in a multitude of ways,” Tucker said.

As Mimi, Tucker has tried to emphasize her intellectual side.

“Mimi is a very intelligent young woman. I feel like she knows what she’s wants out of life. Maybe she came to New York City with big dreams and got caught up with the wrong crowd,” Tucker said. “She was in school and dropped out. I try to give her a little more stability than people are used to seeing with her. They are used to her being played a little more rough around the edges, which she is, but I feel like people don’t get to see that more structured side, the more ambitious side of Mimi.”

Tucker didn’t grow up with “Rent.” She watched a recorded version of the Broadway show when she was auditioning for the part of Joanne Jefferson. However, when she was watching it, she was captivated by Mimi.

“I remember bawling my eyes out all three times because the show was so amazing. I remember coming across Mimi’s performance, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that is what I want to do,’” Tucker said.

She landed the role of Mimi.

“I’m a dancer by nature. That’s my first love, as well as music,” Tucker said.

Growing up in a single-parent household, her mother didn’t have money for dance lessons, but Tucker took part in school choirs, drama clubs and dance teams. The actress became interested in theater when she accompanied a friend on an audition for a high school production of “Dreamgirls.” She auditioned herself and landed the role of Deena Jones.

The production was filmed for the BET special “One Night Only,” which explored how students were juggling academics and the production while moving forward after Hurricane Katrina.

Tucker said being part of the show prompted a greater interest in theater.

“I was just bit by the acting bug, and that whole experience changed my life,” Tucker said.

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