AND WILLIAM DAY AS ROCK GUITARIST ROGER DAVIS
Broadway Series South of Raleigh and City Stage of Wilmington will present a home-grown production of RENT, the big 1996 Broadway hit by the late, great Jonathan Larson (1960-96), based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 Italian opera La bohème, on July 1-3, 8-10, and 15-17 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in the heart of downtown Raleigh. The four-act opera La bohème is set in Paris, circa 1830; and RENT is a rock musical set in Bohemian Alphabet City on the Lower East Side of New York City, circa 1996, in the Age of HIV/AIDS.
The Broadway Series South and City Stage production of RENT will star Paul Teal of the CW television series “One Tree Hill” as avant-garde documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen and William Day of “One Tree Hill” and the WB Television Network show “Dawson’s Creek” as Mark’s best friend and roommate, HIV-positive singer, songwriter, and guitarist Roger Davis.
“I first heard about RENT in the late 1990s,” recalls director Justin Smith of City Stage. “I saw the show on Broadway in 2005 and fell in love with it immediately. My wife cried through the whole second act and I had never seen anything that moved someone so deeply. I directed RENT in June of 2009 in Wilmington, NC. We performed it at Thalian Hall, which is a similar venue to Fletcher Opera Theater.”
He adds, “… [T]he depth of the characters, the honesty of the relationships between the characters, the real life dramatic tension and the music all made for elements to be a near perfect theatrical experience.”
Based on an original concept by playwright Billy Aronson and written by composer, lyricist, and playwright Jonathan Larson, with additional lyrics for “Santa Fe” and “La Vie Bohème/I Should Tell You” by Aronson, RENT is a late 20th-century American update of Puccini’s La bohème. But in RENT, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome takes the place of consumption (tuberculosis) as the killer of beleaguered artists trying to scratch out a meager living on the mean streets of Alphabet City in New York City’s bohemian East Village.
Jonathan Larson, who also wrote the 1990 rock musical TICK, TICK … BOOM!, died tragically, from an aortic dissection, in the early morning hours of Jan. 25, 1996, the day that RENT made its Off-Broadway debut at the New York Theatre Workshop. Directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Marlies Yearby, the show played for 49 performances Off Broadway before closing on March 31, 1996. Yet RENT won three 1995-96 OBIE Awards: Special Citations for Jonathan Larson, Michael Greif, and The Acting Ensemble — plus the 1996 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical, the 1996 Drama League Award for Best Musical, and the 1996 Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical.
RENT made its Broadway debut on April 29, 1996, at the Nederlander Theatre, where it racked up 5,123 performances before closing on Sept. 7, 2008. RENT is currently the ninth-longest running show in the history of the Great White Way.
The original Broadway production of RENT starred Anthony Rapp as Mark; Adam Pascal as Roger; Daphne Rubin-Vega as HIV-positive exotic dancer Mimi Marquez; Jesse L. Martin as gay MIT-educated New York University philosophy professor with AIDS Tom Collins; Wilson Jermaine Heredia as 19-year-old gay drag queen with AIDS Angel Dumott Schunard; Idina Menzel as Mark’s former girlfriend bisexual performance artist Maureen Johnson; Fredi Walker as Maureen’s current girlfriend lesbian lawyer Joanne Jefferson; and Taye Diggs as Mark and Roger’s landlord and former running buddy Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III.
RENT received ten 1996 Tony Awards® nominations; and won the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Heredia). The show also won the 1996 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Music, Outstanding Lyrics, Outstanding Book, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Heredia), and Outstanding Orchestrations (Steve Skinner), plus the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The 2005 motion-picture version of RENT, directed by Chris Columbus, from a screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, starred Anthony Rapp as Mark, Adam Pascal as Roger, Rosario Dawson as Mimi, Jesse L. Martin as Tom, Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel, Idina Menzel as Maureen, Tracie Thoms as Joanne, and Taye Diggs as Benny.
Justin Smith, who is directing the local Broadway Series South and City Stage production of RENT in Fletcher Opera Theater, says, “Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning Broadway musical, based loosely on Puccini’s opera La bohème, follows a year in the lives of seven friends living the disappearing Bohemian lifestyle in New York’s East Village. AIDS and both its physical and emotional complications pervade the lives of Roger (William Day), Mimi (Brittany Daniels), Tom (Phillip Lynch), and Angel (Blaine Mowrer).
“Maureen (Amy Tipton) deals with her chronic infidelity through performance art; her partner, Joanne (Joy Gregory), wonders if their relationship is worth the trouble; Benjamin (Tracy Byrd) has sold out his Bohemian ideals in exchange for a hefty income and is on the outs with his former friends; and Mark (Paul Teal), an aspiring filmmaker, feels like an outsider to life in general, always behind the camera recording the events but never playing a part,” explains Justin Smith.
In addition to director Justin Smith, the creative team for RENT includes choreographer Kevin Green, musical director Chiaki Ito, technical director Zack Atkinson, set designer Scenic Asylum, lighting designer Dallas LaFon, costume designer Tre Cotton, properties manager Adam Poole, stage manager Carrie Barnes.
Justin Smith notes, “Kevin Green is a graduate of N.C. School of the Arts in Dance and Chiaki Ito is a graduate of N.C. School of the Arts in Music.”
He adds, “The set is a minimal artistic industrial set with three levels. There is one staircase, the band is on stage, and the space transforms by light and small set changes from a New York City loft to the streets of New York to a restaurant and then to a church….
“The lighting sets the tone for a good portion of the show,” Smith claims. “It artistically defines and sets the mood for the scenes, and we have tried to make it look like a rock concert.”
Smith says, “RENT is a period piece. The costumes are New York artistic fashion from the 1990s. The characters are artists, junkies, and homeless people; and so the costumes will dramatically be different for each group.”
He reveals, “The biggest challenge [in staging RENT] is that it is such a well-known piece, and the characters and songs are iconic, and there’s a high standard to live up to. Keeping true to the show — while putting your own spin on it — is a huge task. For me, the way I am trying to differentiate this production is by enhancing the real, true, honest moments and making it a little less about the spectacle and more about the characters and the relationships between them.”
City Stage director Justin Smith admits, “I think that RENT is a modern-day fairy tale. A lot of skeptics focus on the unlikeable people not paying rent as though they are lazy and true ‘Generation X’ slackers. That’s not the point of the show. The point of the show is that they made a deal with their friend (Benny), and they were supposed to be able to stay to pursue their dreams without having to pay rent, but their friend is now threatening to take away not only their housing but also the housing of all of the other aspiring artists in the block. Their refusal to pay rent is their protest, and their fight for what they believe to be right, which to me, is heroic. They are fighting for their dreams.”
SECOND OPINION: July 1st Raleigh, NC NEWS & OBSERVER preview: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/07/01/559582/rent-goes-indoors-in-raleigh.html.
Broadway Series South and City Stage present RENT at 8 p.m. July 1-3, 8-10, and 15-17 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $25-$35. BOX OFFICE
Ticketmaster: 800/745-3000, 919/834-4000
Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/.
City Stage: http://www.citystageatlevel5.com/.
The Musical: http://www.siteforrent.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=7448 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Film: http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/rent/index.html (official web site) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0294870/ (Internet Movie Database).
The Documentary: http://www.thehotticket.net/rent/ (official site).
Jonathan Larson: http://swirsky.tripod.com/jonathan.html (unofficial site by Chris Matthias), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6927 (Internet Broadway Database).
“Rent” Webring: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/rent/webring/site/.