As CCM prepares for its first production of Jonathan Larson’s revolutionary musical Rent – which runs February 24-27 and March 3-6 in the Patricia Corbett Theater in CCM Village – the young cast is finding energy and excitement in portraying characters their own age who embrace life in a city where many will one day live.
“The actors are playing kids in New York. And some of them two months after the show will be kids in New York, trying to find their world and find their voice. And that’s what the show is about,” said director Richard E. Hess.
The breakthrough musical of the 1990s, Rent recreates Puccini’s La Bohème in the lower East Side of New York City. The Bohemian artists and poets of the original are now contemporary figures working on the fringes of the art world, finding humor, conflict and love in an environment struggling under the specter of AIDS.
According to senior musical theatre student Ryan Breslin, who plays independent filmmaker Mark Cohen, Rent’s realistic story allows the actors to bring their own personalities into their characters and find connections with some of the show’s themes.
“We are that youthful energy in that we are pushing boundaries and forging a path for what we believe in, which is a lot of what this show is about,” said Breslin. “To us, life isn’t about money or material things, but it’s about what we love to do and following our passions – and we’re going to do that no matter how miserable or poor we are in the process.”
Part of the process Breslin refers to is the challenge of moving to New York and finding work in musical theatre, which he says will first likely involve finding a day job to pay the bills while auditioning for shows at night. He’s not alone in this near-future reality, as many of CCM’s senior musical theatre students plan to move to the Big Apple after finishing school this spring. Other senior actors are also finding parallels in Rent’s tale of artists finding a family among themselves as they face life’s challenges.
“Rent forces you to think outside of yourself and realize that there are people around you who support you and that you are not alone in this world,” said Melvin Brandon Logan, a senior who plays Angel Dumott Schunard. “In moving to New York with other seniors who are close to me, we will really have to depend on each other as the characters do in the show. We have strong relationships after spending four years of school together, and it’s nice to have that unit as we move to New York.”
CCM’s First Rent Production
With the rights to Rent released about a year and a half ago, this is the first time that CCM is producing the show that won four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This presents some challenges for the cast and crew in deciding how to present the iconic musical in their own way.
“With Rent, you are given the question: ‘Do I do the Broadway production or do I do my own take on it?’” said Hess. “I felt the pressure of telling the story simply and honestly. And so I am not influenced by other productions. We are starting from the ground up – scenic, costumes, lighting. It will be unique and our own.”
Part of the process of developing CCM’s production has involved the young actors researching Rent’s time period and learning more about the struggles their characters face – an especially important element given that the actors were all born between 1989 and 1993, when the musical takes place.
“It is a different time now and students approach HIV and AIDS differently,” said Hess. “Kids today don’t know what AZT is. They don’t think about T-cells. These were words that were a part of life.”
In addition, Hess and the actors have been sharing their own personal stories of people affected by HIV and AIDS to further understand the story and characters. Natasha Ashworth, who plays Mimi Marquez, has learned more about the stigma people with HIV and AIDS faced two decades ago. “It’s sad to hear that people with AIDS were treated so cruelly,” said Ashworth. “But sharing these stories really helps us connect to the story and bond as a cast.”
Although AIDS was a major political topic of the 1990s and often seen as a death sentence, Rent shows an emotional and deeply moving portrait of a new generation filled with energy and passion for living. “The show pulsates with life. It is saying that I can live with disease and I can live with and demand dignity,” said Hess. “The show is filled with love – measures of love, seasons of love.”
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
To help carry on Rent’s message of love and help those living with HIV and AIDS, the cast and crew will be raising funds during the run of the show for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a nonprofit that supports AIDS service organizations nationwide. To learn more about the organization, visit broadwaycares.org.
Rent Principle Cast List
Roger Davis – Josh T. Smith (Sophomore from Pittsburgh, Penn.)
Mark Cohen – Ryan Breslin (Senior from Marietta, Ga.)
Tom Collins – Max Chernin (Junior from Shaker Heights, Ohio)
Benjamin Coffin III – Grady Long (Junior from Perrysburg, Ohio)
Joanne Jefferson – Alysha Deslorieux (Junior from Plano, Texas)
Angel Dumott Schunard – Melvin Brandon Logan (Senior from Rockville, Maryland)
Mimi Marquez – Natasha Ashworth (Senior from Newburyport, Mass.)
Maureen Johnson – Mia Gentile (Senior from Westport, Conn.)
Due to its adult themes, this production is intended for mature audiences.
Music, lyrics and book by Jonathan Larson
Richard E. Hess, director
Steve Goers, musical director
Diane Lala, choreographer
- Thursday, February 24 at 8 p.m.
- Friday, February 25 at 8 p.m.
- Saturday, February 26 at 2:30 & 8 p.m.
- Sunday, February 27 at 2:30 p.m.
- Thursday, March 3 at 8 p.m.
- Friday, March 4 at 8 p.m.
- Saturday, March 5 at 2:30 & 8 p.m.
- Sunday, March 6 at 2:30 p.m.
Patricia Corbett Theater
University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
$27-$29, $17-$19 students
$11 student rush tickets available for Saturday matinees beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 and March 5; limit two rush tickets per student ID.
Ordering or Additional Information:
Box Office: 513-556-4183 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Season Production Sponsor: Macy’s
Musical Theatre Program Sponsor: The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation