That life can be both beautiful and ugly is a theme addressed in Rent, the quintessential rock musical which portrays the lives of struggling musicians and artists living in New York’s lower East Side.
Rent—the enormously successful Broadway play and WWU’s theatre and dance department’s spring production—has been called a show “steeped in the chiaroscuro of bright young lives amid mortal shadows” by a New York Times reviewer, but it is, first and foremost, a story of love.
The play is a compilation of vignettes showing the perils of a community facing homelessness, drug addiction, poverty, harsh living conditions and the agony of living with and dying of AIDS.
Mark (Conner Peirson), and Roger (Andy Reinhardt) are roommates and best friends, soon to be evicted from their apartment. Mark is a filmmaker and narrator of the show; Roger falls in love with Mimi (Anna White).
Written by Jonathan Larson, who died the night before the show was to open its off-Broadway debut in 1996, Rent is loosely based upon Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La Boheme.
WWU theatre and dance professor and director Jim Lortz chose the play because, despite many of its dire themes, the messages of love, hope and understanding are uplifting. “We have a responsibility of taking care of each other,” Lortz says. “The play stresses the importance of living each day to the absolute fullest and not taking any of the people you know for granted.”
The student cast and technicians have embraced the message of love as well. Lortz was surprised at how protective the students have become of the production, as if “they are having a love affair with the piece. This cast watches closely and learns from each other’s work every night. They encourage, trust and have grown to love one another through the development of the play, which has become a world where groups are reliant on the other and they have become a family. The depth of their feelings makes sparks fly, and I think the audience will see and feel it,” Lortz says.
One risk of re-creating one of Broadway’s most successful and iconic plays was falling into the trap of “deadly theatre,” a phrase originating in Peter Brook’s book, The Empty Space. Lortz says theater that strictly imitates and doesn’t connect with its audience is “deadly,” or “theater of dullness.” While each cast member uses the script as a roadmap and pays homage to the original play, they find their own way of revealing and representing the essential truth of their characters.
Last week I was lucky to catch a rehearsal while some of the dance sequences were being performed, and what I saw made me realize the human body is capable of so much. Anna White’s portrayal of Mimi is astonishingly physical and she captures the essence of Mimi’s exuberance. She shows how dancers are truly “athletes of God,” as the legendary dancer Martha Graham once said. Choreographer Pam Kuntz says, “Anna is fearless and it shows on stage. Directors and choreographers dream of working with artists like Anna; she is generous, confident and humble.”
With a rockin’ musical score led by music director T.J. Anderson, WWU alumni, and extraordinary dance sequences combined with messages of love and caring portrayed by a deeply talented cast, Rent has the potential to be what Peter Brook describes as holy theater, “the notion that the stage is a place where the invisible can appear and have a deep hold on our thoughts.”
In a span of two hours, theater can open our minds to different ideas and perceptions about our world and how we live. This is what Rent does best: it shines a light on the darkness of the human experience and shows there is still the possibility of love.
In the first 24 hours of its official fundraising campaign, the folks behind the Commercial Street Theatre Project raised more than $11,000—and the numbers are quickly rising.
This is… more »
The college kids who crammed the bus to capacity on the ride from downtown Bellingham to Western Washington University’s Viking Union Friday night were busy making plans for the weekend.… more »
Christopher Key has an addiction, and he’s not afraid to talk about it.
Key won’t be heading to rehab for his habit anytime soon. Instead, he’ll feed his overwhelming… more »
At the end of every Improvathon, Upfront Theatre player Galen Emanuele swears he’s never, ever going to stay awake all night performing improv again. By the time the next one… more »
Anneleise Kamola is a brave woman.
While she doesn’t have a reputation for leaping off tall buildings to stop crimes in progress or saving children from runaway trains, Kamola… more »
Drue Robinson is a difficult woman to keep track of.
As the founder and driving force of Bellingham Children’s Theatre and a longtime proponent and practitioner of putting the… more »