From the songs “Take Me or Leave Me” to “Seasons of Love,” the musical RENT continues to inspire audiences everywhere. The 1994 show by Jonathan Larson is running at Phoenix Theatre until Sept. 15.
RENT focuses primarily on Mark and Roger, two friends and roommates living in New York City. The two struggle with finding love, friendship and peace within themselves while living with HIV and AIDS.
Robert Kolby Harper is directing the Phoenix Theatre version of RENT. For the season’s first production, Harper mentioned that he was not afraid to “stray from the norm” when it comes to this famous musical.
“There are certain expectations that come with the show,” Harper said, “but I don’t confine myself to that.”
Evan Tyler Wilson, a musical theater major, acts in the play and is billed on the Phoenix Theatre website as part of the male ensemble.
“It’s almost like an out-of-body experience,” Wilson said about being in RENT.
He claimed that he always had a passion for singing, and he grew up singing the songs of RENT itself. The musical numbers, in Wilson’s eyes, are “iconic.”
“It changed the face of musical theater,” Harper said of RENT.
He said RENT’s enduring popularity and its ability to still be performed in 2013 as it was when it was released in 1994 reminded him of the vast audience it reaches.
“There is an older generation, who lost countless friends to HIV and AIDS, so it’s a memorial in some respects,” Harper said.
The younger generation still deals with this similar “riff in society,” as Harper calls it.
Wilson has fun with his role in RENT.
“I get to do some crazy stuff,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s characters in the play include Steve, a member of an AIDS life support group, to a “homeless guy who’s obsessed with squeegeeing car windows.”
Harper pointed out that occasionally other productions “make a star” out of one of the characters.
“That’s awesome, but they each teach their own lesson,” Harper said of each individual role in the show.
After spending close to what Wilson said was 20 to 30 hours a week rehearsing, RENT opened on August 21. However, being a student enrolled at ASU, he also had homework to which he had to attend.
“Phoenix Theatre is great working with students’ schedules,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that with the theater’s Wi-Fi he would do his schoolwork backstage.
In addition to the entire understudy cast being ASU students, the main cast also stars a few ASU students and graduates. Jenny Hintze, who plays Maureen, graduated from ASU. Keilani Akagi is a student who performs in the play as part of the female ensemble.
The Tony Award-winning show is at Phoenix Theatre from Aug. 21 through Sept. 15, and tickets are available online.
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