For its 61st annual musical, Theatre Wesleyan is producing Rent.
But it’s not, several cast members say, the same Rent that audiences have loved since the play debuted on Broadway 19 years ago.
“It’s not going to be the Rent everyone knows,” said Tyler Guse, who plays Angel Dumott-Schunard. “It’s a brand new concept of Rent. It’s more contemporary or what we think Rent would be like now, because it did come out about 20 years ago. We wanted to bring it up to date and bring a new Rent to the stage that people aren’t used to – new costumes, new scenery, everting is going to be very different but it’s worth it.”
Theatre Wesleyan’s production of Rent runs April 23-26 at the Thad Smotherman Theatre. With a cast of eight and an ensemble of 12, it is directed by Jeanne Everton, with musical direction by Michael Plantz and choreography by Elise Lavallee, according to txwes.edu.
Written by Jonathan Larson, Rent is the story of several young New Yorkers’ “battles with AIDS, rent, vocation and love,” according to broadwaymusicalhome.com. Rent made its Broadway debut at the Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. The original cast included Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel, among others, and was an enormous popular and critical hit.
Larson died almost three months to the day before the Broadway debut, on Jan. 25, 1996, according to pbs.org.
Rent ran for 5,123 performances at the Nederlander, and garnered numerous awards, including 1996 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score; in addition, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who played Dumott-Schunard, won a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, according to broadwaymusicalhome.com. Rent was also awarded the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Wesleyan student Jasmine West, who is in the ensemble, said she is excited for audiences to see the tech behind the play.
“I’m excited about the technical innovation that this show brings,” she said. “If people have ever seen a Theatre Wesleyan show, the plays have the usual – your lights, your sound, the actors – but this play is very, very innovative. I’ve never seen a play or musical done the way that we are doing ours.”
Jacob Sanchez, who plays Mark Cohen, said that while much of the Wesleyan production is new, the subject matter remains relevant and important.
“It may hit on subjects like AIDS, sex, drugs, and topics that are so taboo,” Sanchez said, “but that’s exactly why this story needs to be told, which is exactly why Jonathan Larson wrote it. It’s real. People like that and problems like that still exist today.”
Rent runs April 23-25 at 7:30 p.m. and April 25-26 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10-$25 and can be reserved by calling 817-531-4211. Tickets for the evening performance are $25 and must be reserved through the Office of Advancement at 817-531-6548.