Community Players' entry in November sweeps is Rent, Jonathan Larson's musical picture of Bohemian youth in New York's East Village in the early 90s, living under the shadow of addiction and HIV/AIDS as they struggle to make art, find a voice and connect to love. Based loosely on Puccini's La bohème, Rent tells a classic story of idealistic young people trying to make those ideals work when real life, in the form of things like paying the rent, finding a place to life and mortality smack them in the face.
When Larson, who wrote the score and the book, died of an aortic dissection the night before the show's off-Broadway premiere, Rent and its message of living for today took on a larger significance in the cultural landscape. It became one of Broadway's biggest "cult" musicals, with fans -- many of them new to Broadway and to musicals -- coming back again and again to try for $20 rush tickets. It starred the likes of Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp and Daphne Rubin-Vega, sending them to the top of the Broadway ladder.
Touring companies of Rent have played in Bloomington-Normal before, this is the first time it has come to Community Players. Brett Cottone directs a cast of about 20, with Aaron Wiessing as Mark, the videographer who serves as a narrator to the piece; Sean Stevens and Sammantha Bettis as Roger and Mimi, a musician and dancer who are both HIV-positive and trying hard not to fall in love; Chris Stanford as Angel, a drag queen with AIDS who nevertheless has a sunny outlook on life; Tony Gannaway as Tom Collins, a smart, philosophical professor who rescues Angel from the streets; Breann Dawson as Maureen, Mark's ex who is now in a relationship with Joanne; Felicia Jiardina as Joanne, the politically-connected lawyer Maureen is now with; and Matthew Henry as Benny, the group's former friend who is now their landlord.
Director Cottone is joined on the technical side of the Rent equation by Bridgette Richard (assistant director), Rusty Russell (musical director), Wendy Baugh (choreographer), Alan Wilson (producer and costumer), Tony Meizelis (lighting), Rich Plotkin and Eli Mundy (sound), Dorothy Mundy and Carol Plotkin (props), stage manager Judy Stroh and house manager Wendi Fleming.
Rent opened last weekend, but it has two more weekends to go, with performances November 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22 and 23. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 pm, while Sunday matinees start at 2:30 pm. For more information, check out Rent's Facebook page. To buy tickets, click here.