By MIKE CHAIKEN
The musical “Rent” takes place in a New York City that no longer exists.
Originally staged in 1996, the show debuted at a time when many members of the cast in the Connecticut Theatre Company production of the show weren’t even born yet. And if they were born, they were too young to have experienced what the characters on stage have gone through.
The Pulitzer Prize winning musical, based on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” is about the lives of a group of 20-somethings trying to find their way in New York City. It is told against the backdrop of the ravages of HIV, drug abuse, and rampant homelessness.
Although the story takes place before he was born, Zach Cote of Bristol (who plays the character, Angel, a drag queen with HIV) said he can still relate to the show. He knows, for instance, the lessons his peers have received on the prevention of HIV/ AIDS is directly related to the historical context of “Rent.” He said, “We’re so lucky they still educate us and speak to us about how it was then.”
The story is about people who have AIDS, said Sarah Boilard of Bristol, who is a part of the ensemble. But it’s more than that. It’s about the characters’ passion to overcome their HIV status. Given that passion, said Sarah, “Rent” is “easily relatable.”
Jayson Beaulieu of Bristol, who was a senior in high school when “Rent” was released, said, yes, the characters have AIDS. But the musical also is about “struggling and trying to find happiness at the same time.”
“Everybody can relate to that,” said Jayson.
Zach, like the characters on stage is an artist, studying performance in New York City. So he said he can relate to the travails of trying to find your way as an artist. In New York, said Zach, “I was doing auditions out there. It’s a very tough road. I wasn’t used to it. It’s a whole different world out there to be honest.”
“Everybody has a journey,” said Sarah, when asked how she related to the show as an artist. “It’s just a matter of what that journey is. Some people are a little different. Some people want to go and be artists and be that star on stage. My passion is a little bit different than that. But it’s still relatable because it’s still a struggle regardless.”
There are several story arcs in “Rent” as each character takes their own journey.
Of those story arcs, said Sarah, “Who I feel are most relatable are Joanne and Maureen and their relationship.” Joanne is a performance artist. Maureen is an attorney. But Sarah said the couple “accepts each other and (they) get through their problems together. It is a great message for everybody because they’re so passionate with each other. But they’re also so different. Somehow, they work it out.”
As for “Rent” as a piece of entertainment, Zach said, “Musically, it’s amazing. There’s not one song that’s like another song in the show. There are all of these different genres. There are jazz songs, pop songs, rock songs.”
“It’s probably the most entertaining show I’ve been in if only for the fact that it attracts the younger crowd,” said Sarah.
“It’s not really like any other musicals,” said Jayson, who is part of the ensemble. “It’s very sad at times. It’s upbeat. It’s got a little humor. It has everything in it.”
In terms of the Connecticut Theatre Company production, the actors say audiences should check it out.
“It’s not like any other show they’ve seen. I guarantee that,” said Zach.
“There are theaters who put on this show but I think we’ve got one of the best groups in this show,” said Jayson. “People will enjoy the experience.”
“It’s so worth coming out to New Britain to see this show, said Sarah. “There’s just a lot of good young talent, the most amazing talent you’ll find. Coming out of Bristol (to check it out) will open your eyes.
“Rent” continues through till July 6 with performances on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., and two Sundays, June 29 and July 6, at 2 p.m. Performances are at The Repertory Theatre on 23 Norden St. in New Britain.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and children under 18. Tickets can be purchased at the door. For show times and tickets, visit www.connecticuttheatrecompany.org or call and leave a message at (860) 223-3147.
By MIKE CHAIKEN