Few modern theatrical works have galvanized audiences around the world like Rent, Jonathan Larson’s musical about young New Yorkers dealing — as best they can — with poverty, betrayal and the damning specter of AIDS.
Rent is universally admired because, while much of its subject matter is dark, it’s also a story about art, and music, and the incredible, tensile strength of love and friendship.
When Rent is funny, it’s hilarious; when Rent is joyous, it’s exhilarating; when Rent is serious, it’s devastating.
Much like life.
Larson, who died of an undetected heart ailment in 1996 — the very week his rock musical was to open off-Broadway — based Rent on La Boheme, Puccini’s opera about impoverished bohemians and their intersecting lives.
Posthumously, he won three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
After years of fits, starts, maybes and also–rans, Rent makes its Savannah community theater debut this week, at Bay Street Theatre, with a cast of 14 and a full band.
The director is JinHi Soucy Rand, who operates Muse Arts Warehouse.
This is the very first collaboration between Bay Street and Muse. And David I.L. Poole, of the Collective Face, has provided one of the set pieces for the show.
The performers come from these and other Savannah theater groups, including SCAD and Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Appropriately, Rent is the show that’s breaking down walls, reminding us that the first rule of community theater is “community.”
We sat down with the entire Rent company for a freewheeling discussion as to what it’s all about, Alfie:
JinHi Soucy Rand (Director): I came into auditions not knowing a lot of the people that are in this cast. And I know a lot of theater people! But we very quickly formed a pretty tight family. Every night at rehearsal I think “What on earth have I done to deserve something this great?”
Jack Butler (Ensemble): I really do believe the theme of the show is community. I mean, these people are in a really precarious place – and yet they all still want to experience that love, that community. Something so strong that’s been forged by fire.
Tyrone McCoy (Angel): I definitely look forward to coming here and seeing these people, because all of us have grown very, very close. We each have a personal relationship with everybody else in this cast. We can all sit down and talk, or go out to eat.
Jonette Page (Maureen): I’m so glad I came down to audition last year for Rocky Horror, because I got to meet some of these guys ... Chris, and Chris .... Now I’m part of this, and I’m really excited.
Regan Taylor (Ensemble): Every single rehearsal I come to, I’m just blown away by the talent. It’s a small enough cast where —to me, personally — it’s not like the leads are more important. It’s a blessing to be part of a show that gives that.
Sam Collura (Mark): I’m fairly new to this show, but very quickly I started seeing that there’s a lot going on here with these characters and the subtext in everything that’s going through their minds. And that’s what I’m trying to connect to – not just with Mark, but with everybody else.
Casey Gardner (Ensemble): A lot of us SCAD students want to go out, and go into the community. This is a real haven for us, because a lot of times we don’t get the opportunities. We’re kind of passed over in our departments. Working with Muse and with Bay Street has really been a blessing for me, to be able to actually use what I’m learning .... I’m just really excited about not having to be in this little box at school.
Danielle Frazier (Ensemble): I think the emsemble is just as important because ... in some way they represent the outside world the main characters are living in.
Christopher Blair (Collins): You get what you give. In a nutshell, if you expect a good, thriving community theater scene, then you need to invest in it. With talent, or money, or time, or abilities. If you don’t do that, then you have no right to bitch that it isn’t there for you.
Jason Marion (Ensemble): It’s great to be part of a theater company where there isn’t the traditional hierarchy of things. There’s a true sense of ensemble and community for everybody. No one gets treated better than any other person.
Travis Harold Coles (Ensemble, Bay Street Theatre manager): There’s not been a show we’ve done here at Bay Street, I don’t think, where somebody was more important than another. There is a very equal acceptance and respect for everybody.
Christopher Stanley (Roger): When we’re singing “Seasons of Love,” or the reprise to “I’ll Cover You,” and we make eye contact with each other, there’s that major bond that is very, very emotional. We connect both with each other and with the meaning of the song. It’s pretty powerful.
Brittny Hargrove (Joanne): The first musical I saw on Broadway was Rent. My dad took me to see it and I absolutely loved it. It’s a little more personal for me because my uncle died of AIDS. I was probably 7 or 8; I didn’t understand. To see somebody just kind of shrivel up, and not understand why, it’s just really sad.
Christopher Blair: I’ve lost people to this disease. Sometimes it’s hard to deal with the subject matter – we’ve had all these emotional rehearsals, and now it’s like “OK, how do we do this without losing it?” There was one night we just completely lost it.
Erik Hauk (Benny): I was really excited when they called, because I often get cast as Seymour, or Charlie Brown. The nice guy. But I didn’t want to play Benny as strictly a bad guy; I think he has really good intentions.
Cecelia Arrango (Mimi): “No day but today,” I feel like that’s Mimi’s mantra. No regrets, live life to the fullest, don’t think about tomorrow. Think about now. She wants Roger to see that. And that’s the one theme that jumps out at me.
JinHi Soucy Rand: I’m very excited about what everybody has brought to these characters that so many of us have seen before and are in love with. This cast has been able to really bring something else, something different, to each of these characters. Something fresh. Something live.
Where: Bay Street Theatre at Club One, 1 Jefferson St.
When: May 12 and13, May 18–20, May 24–27. All shows at 7:30 p.m.