Rent is a rock opera based on La Bohème, the 1896 opera by Giacomo Puccini. Its modernized story and original music were written by Jonathan Larson, and changed the locale from the original opera’s Latin Quarter of 19th century Paris to modern-day New York’s Lower East Side.
The updated storyline also changes the plague of Tuberculosis to AIDS, which afflicts most of the characters. Rent tells the story of a close-knit group of young, struggling artists as they fight to survive in a difficult environment, discover love, fear their disease, and ultimately feel the pain and sorrow of loss as those they love are taken away by the disease.
It’s no secret that the theater productions within the Temecula Valley had been historically conservative until the past few years, when shows such as Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, Vagina Monologues, Rumors, and now Rent have brought more mature and perhaps controversial topics to this valley’s stages. In the case of Rent, however, the central topic of the story is one that many at the theater on this night proclaimed “needed to be told”. Without giving away any specific parts of the story, there are moments in this show that take you from the heights of laughter to the depths of sadness, and anyone without a heart of stone would feel the tears welling up as Tom Collins (excellently portrayed by Temecula actor, Paul Kehler) beautifully sings the reprise of I’ll Cover You.
Other lead performers in Rent include Zack Wolfe as Mark Cohen, Rustin Sailors as Roger Davis, Trisha Mae Banquerigo as Mimi Marquez, Danielle Levas as Maureen Johnson, Coreena Mulloy as Joanne Jefferson, Zack Crocker as Angel Schunard, and Willie May as Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III. I’ll just say now that this article would be ten times as lengthy if I were allowed to rave all I wanted to about how good the singing was in this production. There is some serious, professional-level talent in this little community theater of ours.
After the performance on Friday, May 14th, I pretty much tossed my video camera into my wife’s hands with no prior warning (or training) and grabbed some unsuspecting theater-goers to get their own views of the local production of Rent, as well as some insight from a few of the cast members and director, J. Scott Lapp himself.