Rent-heads unite: VOS tackles iconic rock musical

Subject matter of HIV, poverty, gentrification, tent city will resonate with Victoria audiences

Doug Crockett avoided getting involved with any production of Rent for a long time.

Until agreeing to direct the upcoming Victoria Operatic Society version of the rock musical, he had steered clear of this wildly successful theatre piece. Its subject matter: struggling young artists battling poverty, the gentrification of their neighbourhood and the overarching spectre of AIDS, felt too close to home for him.

“I lived in Los Angeles and in San Francisco during the 80’s and 90’s,” he says. “I lost a lot of friends to AIDS during that time, and when I first heard about VOS doing Rent, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to be involved.”

As he thought about it, Crockett realized he had a lot to offer the talented cast, doing a show he has always admired. “Among the eight principal actors, I think the oldest is 34. With such a young cast, they’re not going to have a lot of references [to that time].”

That scenario may play in this production’s favour, says one of the leads.

Liam McDonald, left, plays Mark Cohen and Sean Baker plays Roger Davis in the Victoria Operatic Society production of Rent, playing at the McPherson Playhouse Nov. 23 to Dec. 2. Photo by Jesse Polito/courtesy VOS

“None of us were really alive or have personal experiences with the direct subject matter,” notes Liam McDonald, who plays Mark Cohen, a young filmmaker and narrator of the show. “I think we can draw things from our own experiences and tell this story in a way that does it justice, but also puts a new, fresh spin on some of the moments.”

There’s recognition amongst the cast and crew that there will be “Rentheads” in the crowd. Those are fans for whom this musical is etched on their soul – they’ve memorized the storyline, know all the iconic moments and can recite the dialogue word for word. They see it every chance they get, from live productions to the 2005 feature film.

McDonald is excited for those audience members.

“To bring the elements that are always there is important,” he says. “But what I’m excited about is to twist the things that we can put our spin on, and to sort of make the parts that we think are important, important.”

ALSO READ: 9 to 5: What a way to make a livin’

Sean Baker, who plays dying rock musician Roger Davis, who is Mark’s roommate and is HIV positive, hasn’t performed in Rent before but saw a production in New York a dozen years ago. He’s witnessed and been part of a phenomenon that somewhat parallels the emotion-filled story line.

Where it sometimes takes time together for a cast to bond, this group has grown tight quickly, he says.

“The richness of the relationships is already present in the show itself, but also because we’ve grown so close already, that adds to that depth of [the on-stage] relationships.”

The director and two actors, who last worked together on Urinetown: The Musical at Langham Court Theatre this year, say the attraction of Rent was evident, with 98 actors auditioning for one of 19 roles.

Crockett says Rent is also likely to bring in a younger audience, given its continued popularity and the youthful characters. It also may resonate with Victoria theatre goers familiar with the subjects of a tent city, poverty, gentrification of neighbourhoods and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The VOS production of Rent runs Nov. 23-Dec. 2 at the McPherson Playhouse. Tickets start at $21.75 each, available online at rmts.bc.ca, by phone at 250-386-2121 or by dropping in to the Royal or McPherson theatre box offices.

editor@mondaymag.com

Just Posted

Emerald Gloves boxing brings fights to Langford

Langford’s Matt Daniels dropped weight for debut

U.S. mayor and dying dog’s roadtrip to Victoria goes viral

First vacation in three years came a month after blood cancer diagnosis

Team Canada to hold junior selection camp in Victoria

22 players from camp will make roster for 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship

No fines issued for Clean Air Bylaw in Greater Victoria

Smokers in some public places could be fined $100 in Capital Regional District

West Shore RCMP seizes more than $16,000 worth of drugs

Suspected cocaine, pills and cash seized from a Greater Victoria home

VIDEO: Stan Lee leaves posthumous message for his fans

Marvel Comics’ co-creator died on Monday at the age of 95

VIDEO: Protected bighorn sheep killed in B.C. Interior

The sheep are considered a species of concern because of their low population in B.C.

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 14

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Have BC Ferry waits ever forced you to cancel your travel plans?

Many BC Ferry passengers heading out from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen on… Continue reading

Missing hikers on Quadra pull search teams from all over the Island

Two women, aged 69 and 70, did not return from what was supposed to be an hour-long walk Wednesday

VIDEO: The definition of a kilogram has officially changed

50-plus countries voted to a ground-breaking overhaul to the international system of measurements

Deer carcasses don’t belong in green bins, says B.C. city

City of Nanaimo issues reminder to residents, saying fur isn’t compostable

Firearms and cocaine seized from Vancouver Island residence

The file remains under investigation and charges are pending.

B.C. couple helping wildfire evacuees in northern California

A planned holiday has turned into a humanitarian effort for a Penticton couple

Most Read