Arts & Culture Editor
With the semester quickly wrapping up and Millersville University already planning its spring concert, there’s still one major event set for November: University Theatre’s fall musical, which occurs every two years. For the cast and crew of University Theatre’s “Rent,” opening night is this Thursday, so they have been steadily putting the finishing touches on their rock musical production.
“These are the days when you see it come together, which is very exciting and cool,” said Tony Elliot, Communications professor and director of “Rent,” about dress rehearsals. “The actors are getting into their performances, so now my job now is to just step back and let them perform. Even though other people may know ‘Rent,’ it has to appear as though the events themselves are happening for the first time.”
“Rent” is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson. It tells the story of a group of young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City. Though loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme,” “Rent” shares similarities with the late 19th century opera in that it chronicles the lives of a diverse group of artists as they deal with poverty, illness and finding their voice as they live for the day and find comfort in each other.
As an update of sorts of the opera, the musical takes place in the Lower East Village in the
1990’s, and instead of tuberculosis, a number of these Bohemian artists struggle with living in poverty while also living with HIV/AIDS. This group is made up of Mimi Marquez (Shayana Murray), an exotic dancer with HIV; Roger Davis (Colin DiLucido), an HIV-positive singer-songwriter; Mark Cohen (Jeremy Hammer), an independent filmmaker and Roger’s roommate; Maureen Johnson (Sarah Ward), a lesbian performer; Angel Dumott Schunard (Jake McClellan), a cross-dressing percussionist with AIDS; Tom Collins (Mark Rissmiller), a gay philosophy professor with AIDS; Joanne Jefferson (Clara Clase), a lesbian lawyer and Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III (Zachary Terrazas), the local landlord and a former roommate of Roger, Mark, Collins and Maureen.
Appropriate to the time, setting and themes, the songs for the show, including “Rent,” “Out Tonight,” “Today 4 U” and “Take Me or Leave Me” are provocative, fully of energy and even aggressive. Meanwhile, other songs such as “Seasons of Love,” “I’ll Cover You” and “Your Eyes” are deeply meaningful and emotional, and “Will I?” expresses the pain and fear of living with HIV/AIDS.
The set, designed by Victor Capecce, conveys the side of a building covered in graffiti, creating an effect that’s urban and gritty yet vivid. There is also a balcony and stairs where performers dance, sing and deliver monologues.
The costumes are just as colorful, from Mimi’s leopard-skinned coat and Maureen’s leather pants to Roger’s plaid trousers and Angel’s Santa Claus getup, reflecting the wild, loose feel for the show.
“’Rent’ is my favorite show ever,” said costume designer Stacey Andrelczyk, a ’01 Millersville University alumni who majored in Graphics Design. “I’ve seen it on Broadway several times, and I even have a tattoo in honor of the show.”
While attending Millersville, Andrelczyk worked at the university’s Costume Shop, where she got experience with costuming. “When Priscilla Kaufhold [the owner of the Costume Shop] learned that Tony was doing ‘Rent,’ she contacted him and recommended me to work as a costume designer for the show,” she said.
For the costumes, Andrelcyk invested in clothes from Goodwill, eBay and even her own closet in order to create the grungy, working-class, urban wardrobe for the characters. “The show has more than 20 actors, and some of the members of the ensemble play four different characters, so it was a challenge finding around 100 different outfits,” she said.
After two months of practice and preparation, the cast, crew and production staff are ready to debut “Rent.”
“Rent” will be performed in Clair Performance Hall in the Winter Visual and Performing Arts Center. Performances on Nov. 13-15 will be at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Nov. 16.
This event is open to the public. Tickets cost $10 for general admission, $7 for students with ID and seniors and $5 when purchased in advance at the Student Memorial Center. Tickets may be purchased online at MUTicketsOnline.com, at the Student Memorial Center Ticket Office (Room 103, 21 S. George St., Millersville), by calling the Ticket Office at 717-871-7600 or at the Ware Center Box Office (42 N. Prince St., Lancaster). Ticket offices are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The Winter Center Box Office will be opening one hour prior to showtime.