‘Rent in Concert’ stages perfect night for a season of love

Add this share

UPDATE | This performance was canceled after our story went to press. Visit pnotheatre.org.

Grant McGowen always knew that he wanted to get around to it. The producing artistic director of Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theater lists Rent as one of his favorite shows. He knocks off a bucket list item with a special concert version of the musical for the holidays on Dec. 23 at Variety Playhouse.

McGowen’s love of Jonathan Larson’s celebrated, Tony Award-winning show, chronicling the life of young bohemian artists in New York’s Lower East Side, goes back to high school. A self-described musical theater nerd who identifies as queer, McGowen was inspired at a young age by the diversity of Rent’s story.

“It’s one of the first musicals I ever heard back (then),” McGowen says. “It was powerful. There is something about the angst and rebellion of it and the inclusivity of all the characters in it, the love and connection they have with each other and the family they’ve built, that really inspired me at a young age.”


Legendary Inspiration

Rent playwright Jonathan Larson passed away at the age of 35 on the day of the show’s first Off-Broadway preview performance. Another favorite musical of McGowen’s is Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom!, an autobiographical show about a composer in New York questioning his decision to be in the arts.

A strong version by director Lin-Manuel Miranda starring Andrew Garfield is currently available on Netflix.

“That show is one of the reasons I decided to follow my dream and pursue theater, even though I was told, like many who go into the arts, that I’d never make any money and shouldn’t do it,” McGowan says.

“I said, ‘This is what I want to do and I don’t care if I don’t make any money at it,’” he adds. “The story of Larson resonates with me a lot. I stay connected to him although he is not with us.”


Hannah Zale and Luna Searles sing queer roles in ‘Rent in Concert’ on Dec. 23. (Photo by Nigel Marson)

Atlanta’s ‘Rent’ Concert

Besides directing, McGowen stars as Roger in the concert show. The character is a struggling musician who is HIV-positive and embarks on a relationship with stripper Mimi.

Though the actor is mostly known for his film and theater work these days, he has a musical theater background and was eager to return to a juicy role.

“There are some emotional aspects to the character of Roger,” McGowen says.  “He is longing for love and a connection and is afraid to let go into that.”

Other cast members include Luna Searles, runner up on NBC’s “The Voice,” local performer Kevin Harry and singer/songwriter Hannah Zale, the front woman of the band Pussywillows.

It’s easy to see why Rent has such an appeal to LGBTQ audiences, McGowen says.

“The representation of characters and the diversity in the cast – it’s like it should be,” he says. “They are nuanced and are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer. There are people of color with different upbringings.”

“And for Roger and Mark and Mimi and Maureen, they have chosen their family,” McGowen continues. “There is a reason why they aren’t picking up the phone and are screening their calls They are met with judgment. They are choosing power and a life of their own, not being victims.”


Director and performer Grant McGowen as Roger and Mikaela Holmes as Mimi in ‘Rent in Concert.’ (Photo by Nigel Marson)

Close to Home

For a lot of LGBTQ people, the holidays can be tough. For a long time, McGowen looked forward to when the season was over. This year, though, he didn’t want to feed into that negativity.

“I wanted to do something positive,” McGowen says. “For people who don’t want to watch A Christmas Carol or listen to that message and want something alternative and cathartic, I hope we can offer that.”

“I like the idea of being able to do this as a sing along,” he adds. “I have always wanted to see Rent when it was more immersive.”

Local all-transgender band Exquisite Gender performs before the concert. The company’s version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in 2019 featured them, and their set includes some numbers from that musical. The other opening act is vocalist and songwriter Prisca, a self-described “cinematic pop artist who is showing all of her colors.”

Proceeds from Rent in Concert go to help unhoused people in Atlanta.

Rent in Concert stages at Variety Playhouse on Dec. 23, 8 p.m. Visit Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre online. Stay with Project Q for more holigay happenings on local stages in the coming days.



Project Q Atlanta goes on hiatus after 14 years

On Sept. 1, 2008, Project Q Atlanta promised a hyper-local “queer media diet” for Atlanta. The site set out to bring LGBTQ news, in-depth...

Photos catch Purple Dress Run invading Midtown

After three years of pandemic-inflicted limitations, Atlanta’s gay rugby squad let loose on one of its most popular events. The Atlanta Bucks Purple Dress...

Ooo Bearracuda: Photos from Bear Pride’s Main Event

The seventh annual Atlanta Bear Pride hit the ground running on Friday with packed houses at Woofs, Heretic and Future. Turned out, they hadn’t...

Atlanta Bear Pride set to go hard and long all weekend

That low, growing growl you hear is a nation of gay bears headed for Atlanta Bear Pride this weekend. By the time they arrive,...

PHOTOS: Armorettes bring back Easter Drag Race magic

Gay Atlanta’s queens of do-good drag brought the sunshine to a cloudy afternoon on Saturday when Heretic hosted the triumphant return of Armorettes Easter...