Deri'Andra Tucker stars as Mimi Marquez in the 20th anniversary tour of the musical "Rent," coming to Hershey Theatre April 22 and 23.

The uplifting musical “Rent,” coming to Hershey Theatre later this month, has deep roots that burrow far beyond the 23 years since its Broadway debut.

The rock opera’s origins stretch back to the late 19th century and the premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s legendary opera, “La Boheme.”

While the excellent music that distinguishes both works differs greatly — Puccini’s soaring Italian score versus the late Jonathan Larson’s rock musical — both share the story of seven impoverished young artists struggling to follow their dreams in an uncaring city.

Larson’s decision to loosely base his work on Puccini’s story, which in turn was adapted from an 1851 novel by French writer Henri Murger, has stood the test of time.

Larson moved his setting to New York City and added an extra layer of pathos with his controversial inclusion of the devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic into the storyline. “Rent” enjoyed a 12-year run on Broadway and won numerous awards, including the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Larson died unexpectedly of a rare genetic disorder just before the play’s Broadway opening, but this work has attracted a loyal audience who call themselves “RENT-heads.”

The show coming to Hershey Theatre on April 22 and 23 is a 20th anniversary tour that launched in Dallas in 2016 and continues to roll on nearly three years later. It was originally scheduled for just one performance at Hershey, but a second was added due to ticket demand.

The production features a mostly unknown cast but still features a slew of memorable songs, including “Seasons of Love,” “Take Me or Leave Me” and “La Vie Boheme,” the last a salute to the show’s origins.

Dual shows

Allenberry Playhouse’s clever notion of running both the male and female versions of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” in repertory is coming to an end this weekend. The similar, yet slightly different shows feature two distinct casts.

The original male version of the classic comedy will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, while Simon’s newer female rendition, featuring Olive Madison and Florence Unger, can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday.

The male version of “The Odd Couple,” featuring fussy Felix Unger and the slovenly Oscar Madison, launched on Broadway in 1965 to much acclaim, earning Simon his first Tony Award (for best author) and cementing his status as one of America’s foremost playwrights.

The show was later made into a successful film and a long-running TV show, and the concept of mismatched roommates has been used again and again in popular culture in the intervening years.

That’s including Simon himself in 1985, when he revised his original play to create “The Female Odd Couple.” It features the same basic plot, although the boys’ weekly poker game is changed to a girls’ night of Trivial Pursuit and the giggling Pigeon sisters become the Costazuela brothers.

While never as popular as its masculine forerunner, running less than a year on Broadway, the female version has gained traction in regional theaters in recent years.

Keystone Theatrics, which stages the plays at Allenberry, is giving audiences a rare opportunity to see both, with distinct casts. People interested in seeing both shows should contact the box office about a possible discount, according to Keystone’s Executive Artistic Director Justin LeBlanc.

Puppet theater

Theatre Harrisburg once again takes center stage at downtown Harrisburg’s Whitaker Center with a production of the Tony-winning musical comedy “Avenue Q,” which combines humans and puppets in a story that turns “Sesame Street” on its ear.

Although in recent years Theatre Harrisburg has been presenting most of its shows at its uptown Krevsky Production Center, the long-running community theater still returns to Whitaker to stage large-scale musicals like “Avenue Q” and last November’s “Newsies.”

Created by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty in 2003, “Avenue Q” ran for more than 2,500 performances on Broadway and won several Tonys, including best musical, book and score.

An open parody of the popular children’s television show “Sesame Street,” “Avenue Q” features an ironic formula that marries serious adult themes such as racism and pornography, with a light-hearted stage environment where humans and puppets sing and dance together.

Theatre Harrisburg’s production opens April 26 and runs through May 12 at Whitaker. The show is recommended for adult audiences only.

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