Love, friendships, kindness, homosexuality, drugs, AIDS, death, the real world. No matter how much you tone down Jonathan Larson’s Rent, the empowering message will remain the same: Love while living your life to the fullest, and promoting equality to all in the community that surrounds us.
Santa Monica High School’s production of Rent: School Edition defies all odds. Director Darryl Hovis (in his second Samohi production) was able to direct and produce Rent’s convincing message that welcomed many young adults into the musical Broadway era.
“I wouldn’t have done the show if the message was to tone down–I did this for the students that can relate to the themes in the show, things they are going through now and will be in the future,” said Hovis.
Though Hovis was able to work through the awkwardness and culture shock that Rent can produce, much to my surprise, this awkwardness didn’t seem to be present with the cast. While talking to several cast members, including Jane Kivnick, who played Mimi, I found out that the cast got the centralized message.
“Attracting and forming communities to help one another in a way of understanding and love makes us a cut above the rest,” said Dylan Braun, who played Collins in the production. Kivnick added: “Acceptance of everyone, no matter who they are, produces love.”
Along with bringing these young adults together, in a way that probably Hovis couldn’t even have imagined, he took chances that gave the production life. One of his choices was to bring the entire ensemble on stage for group songs such as “Seasons of Love,” or “No Day But Today.” The kids recognized this as a risk, and they too agreed that it was the right choice, because it kept the community theme together,
“It gave us an opportunity to wake-up, feel a true connection and warm-up to living together in unity,” said Ethan Corn, who played Roger.
Another choice that worked, even though I will admit I was sad not to see it, was omitting the drum-stick shebang solo during Angel’s show-stopping number “Today 4 You (Tomorow 4 Me).” But, it worked, as it enabled the cast to do things that normally would not have been done – again building the community feeling. These choices allowed other numbers such as “Take Me Out Tonight,” “Maureen’s Protest,” and ”Tango Maureen” to usher in the same type of boldness that worked effectively. In most productions of Rent one doesn’t see ensembles of this type (the voices are usually just off-stage), but Hovis made a great decision to bring these things to the production. It allowed the cast, especially Corn and Kivnick, to shine.
Johnthan Larson died just six hours before the curtain went up for the first time on Rent, something he worked on for almost 10 years in tribute to La Boheme, a production with many similarities that debuted 100 years earlier, in the late 1800s. Both musicals were geared towards the younger generation. In fact, many credit this Rock-Opera for being massively responsible for helping to increase the popularity of musical theater among the younger generation. Whether it be the confident performer, the confident homosexual, the one who is waiting for his big breakthrough as a reformed drug user, the drug user who wants to quit, the up-and-coming director, the successful one who has bad luck, or the one that has her life together, there is a character in Rent that everyone can relate to.
Many towns have refused to allow productions of Rent. There was even a protest just a few years ago in Orange County that scrapped the production down there all together. The controversy that surrounds this just doesn’t add up. Not only does it give hope and the feeling of community, it makes you want to become a better person after seeing it. Hovis and his cast have done something that has been a long time in the making, and something that Santa Monica stands for: bringing the community together. “No Day But Today.”
RENT: School Edition has a limited number of performances left. It is performed at Santa Monica High School theatre at 7 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday night with an additional matinee show at 2 p.m. on Saturday. This is the final weekend. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for students and seniors.
Lynne Bronstein contributed to this article.
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