The rock musical Rent is saying goodbye to one of its leading veterans.

Tenor Adam Pascal has sung the role of HIV-positive songwriter Roger Davis since the production’s Broadway premiere in 1996. Moving on to new opportunities, Pascal says the musical’s message has evolved with the times.

“There’s a different atmosphere around Rent these days,” says Pascal by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “When it was written, AIDS was a death sentence. Now it’s not. Now in the production, AIDS is a metaphor for any crisis today. For many people, life itself is often a crisis.”

Rent is based on Puccini’s 1896 opera La Boheme, in which Parisian hipsters are dying of tuberculosis. TB is treatable now, and yet La Boheme is still one of the world’s most popular operas. Rent has a similar durability: It’s becoming a classic in its own right. There’s even a high school version in circulation now, with a few changed words to keep parents from worrying too much.

“I find the changed words offensive,” says Pascal. “There’s a misconception that the musical is dangerous. It’s amazing to me that there are people in this country who are still afraid of gay people.”

Though Pacal’s central character isn’t gay (Roger’s wife has committed suicide after discovering they are HIV-positive), the fact that homosexuality is frankly and unapologetically portrayed in this musical has spooked some conservative concert goers since its inception. Rent is more about arty types living a grimy, impoverished life in Greenwich Village. The characters are often young and impulsive, and sometimes they make dumb decisions that no single sexual orientation can lay claim to.

However, all the controversy surrounding Rent doesn’t seem to have hurt the production. In less than 15 years, it has garnered four Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy Award, and has grossed nearly $300 million. Those are hardly embittering figures.

Nor is the cast politicized.

“I don’t carry on my shoulders a responsibility to report on something,” says Pascal. “It’s fine that some other people find things in (Rent) that are important to them politically, but that’s not my job.”

Though the controversy may last indefinitely, Rent remains fundamentally a tear-jerking tale of lives overtaken by circumstances. We are moved by believable portrayals, regardless of message.

“My job is to perform,” says Pascal, “to evoke a character and a story to the best of my ability.”

– Rent runs Tuesday through Sunday, Jan. 24, at the The Canon Theatre