'Rent' with young, local cast, comes due at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre
Bill Berry, associate artistic director of the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, is staging his long-planned revival of "Rent" — this time, the musical showcases a new generation of local musical-theater talent. Through Aug. 19, 2012.
Seattle Times theater critic
'Rent'By Jonathan Larson. Through Aug. 19, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; $20-$139 (206-625-1900 or www.5thavenue.org).
"Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear/How do you measure, measure a year?" goes the Broadway anthem "Seasons of Love."
And how do you measure the life span of "Rent," the Tony and Pulitzer-winning rock musical by Jonathan Larson the song springs from? A chronicle of a group of gay and straight young bohemians in Lower Manhattan, some stricken with AIDS, "Rent" opened triumphantly on Broadway in 1996, ran a dozen years, then toured internationally and spawned a popular high-school edition (and a less-successful film).
Bill Berry is wagering "Rent" isn't ready for eviction yet.
Berry is the longtime associate artistic director of the 5th Avenue Theatre, whose latest success for the company was staging the recent ACT/5th Avenue premiere of the snappy new tuner "First Date." His long-planned revival of "Rent" showcases a new generation of Seattle musical-theater talent — many of whom were in elementary school when the show exploded onto Broadway, soon after Larson's untimely death.
"I saw 'Rent' right after it first opened in New York, and it's stuck with me," says Berry. "It's a piece of theater that really captures a certain time and place. We're setting it in the same era, and community, but re-examining it with a contemporary lens on. We wanted to find out what in this is still relevant, what things have changed (in youth culture) and what haven't."
The big difference between his "Rent" and, say, the 2009 tour at the Paramount Theatre featuring some of the show's original stars, Berry underscores, is the youth factor.
"I felt we really needed to cast young. This is about young people, and it just isn't as interesting when the actors are 35, as they were in the movie and some of the later tours," he declares. "That made you want to scream, 'OK, grow up and pay your rent already!' "
Due to the instrumental and vocal demands of composer-author Larson's score (influenced by Puccini's opera "La Bohème," Sondheim musicals and '80s rock), the show needed versatile singer-actors. "You have to sing very hard," Berry says, "but also put a lot of feeling into each number. It's a relentless emotional roller coaster."
Yet for many in the cast, this is their first big professional-acting job out of college, he notes, estimating the average age of the players is "about 23."
The role of Mark, the film student who narrates the comic and tragic adventures of his apartment-squatting artist friends, went to Roosevelt High School grad Daniel Berryman. Montana native Aaron Finley (a lead in Village Theatre's 2011 "Jesus Christ Superstar") appears as Roger, a rocker who falls for fellow AIDS sufferer Mimi (a "breakout" gig for Naomi Morgan). Jerick Hoffer (of Balagan Theatre's "Spring Awakening") portrays Angel, a beloved transvestite whose death gives "Rent" much of its poignancy.
More-established talents, such as Ryah Nixon and Brandon O'Neill, are also featured.
Though Berry plans a few scenic and staging departures from the original, he feels the show's main theme is still embedded in the popular "Seasons of Love."
"There is no day you can be sure of but today," he summarizes. "So you have to live your life now and fully engage with other human beings."
Misha Berson: email@example.com