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THEATRE PREVIEW - RENT Returns For 20th Anniversary Spectacular

Touring Production brings Jonathan Larson’s original vision to the Calgary Stage

Theatre Preview by Jason Clevett (From September 2019 Online)
Aiyana Smash, Coleman Cummings
Aiyana Smash, Coleman Cummings
Image by: RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, Credit Amy Boyle 2019
The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour
The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour
Image by: RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, Credit Amy Boyle 2019

"How do you document life when life is getting more like fiction each day?"

The lyric from Jonathan Larson’s RENT seems even more relevant today than it did in 1996 with the current political climate. It’s remarkable that so much of the themes and lyrics brought to the stage 20+ years ago when RENT exploded onto the theatre scene that so many apply to the world in 2019.

"Specifically the song What You Own I think is super poignant in an isolating age. How can that be more relevant now than it was then with the age of social media and people having this not real persona per se online and then it's not like they're always their most genuine or authentic self." said Coleman Cummings, one of the cast of the current touring production of the show. "This story is full of characters that are like real people going through real things and that is something that will always be relatable to anyone. Love and loss and disease and betrayal friendship. Being passionate about the arts and trying to be an artist and make it work in this world. Those things will always be relevant."

RENT’s 20th Anniversary Tour plays at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium September 10th – 15th. Coleman, who is gay, plays the brooding rocker Roger Davis, a straight character. The original cast featured gay actor Anthony Rapp in the role of Mark Cohen and the features Trans, Gay, Bisexual and Lesbian representation. This was ground-breaking in 1996 and continues to be important.

"I think this is the first time that I've been in a show with so much diversity and sexuality and gender. It's awesome to be a part of something with that and have straight people play gay characters and gay people play straight characters. It was based on who was right for the part, who could sing the part and who could act the part. And it was awesome that it didn't come down to biases. I feel like it's hard to be like gay and always be on about how I'm coming across in how I'm reading and hope I'm not being too flamboyant or too feminine. That I hope that I can come across straight enough to be able to play this role.  I feel good that like my acting ability is good enough to be believable in this character. But I also, in part, always have to be a little bit guarded when I go to auditions to make sure that  people think that I'm castable in that world, which has always been a challenge."

He admits its still a challenge in 2019 to not instantly be typecast into playing gay characters.

"When you go to an audition, you're in the room for 30 seconds and much of your personality comes out in the audition before you sing and after you sing. And if you're, too peppy or too one way or the other that the table will definitely read in on that. And I think that's something that I've had to kind of put on when I go into the room, but also try and be my most authentic self. It's a hard balance."

One of the things that jumped out when RENT first started making waves was the fact that Roger and Mimi are straight characters with HIV. At that time, it put a spotlight on the misconception that HIV was or is a gay disease – a misconception that still exists 20 years later. There's still people who will call it a gay disease.

"I think it was really smart of Jonathan to give the main straight couple also have HIV. That is also a real thing to try and break that stereotype. And I do think there is still a lot of stigma still about AIDS & HIV being specifically a gay disease. I have three brothers and I think my mom had only talked about it to me and none of my brothers just because I'm the only one that’s gay. I think even now in 2019 it's still important to, to shed light on that and that."

For the 24 year old, touring with RENT introduces aspects of a life that a current generation never experienced, while also looking at aspects that still exist today.

"For the generation of people that are my age, we didn't live through the epidemic where it was basically a death sentence. I'm bringing that back to tell that story of how it was in the eighties and nineties to a younger generation to let them know how far we've come. I think it is important to know. It's important to see where you've come from, that people had to live through that. The older audience, when they see the show, they relive a lot of those events and I think it brings back the memories, which is also important to never forget. As an actor I really had to find parallels in my life that would really bring me to the emotional level that it takes place in. Obviously, I haven't experienced a lot of the things that I'm portraying in the show. I have been in a lot of circumstances of situations that are similar.  Creating those situations for myself and my life to try and empathize and sympathize with the characters that I'm playing.  It was challenging, but the directors were super helpful, and we did a lot of research on the AIDS epidemic and we did a lot of character work. The character’s pasts and really rounded out their story before the show and after. That was really helpful in making it like a fully fleshed out human rather than just like saying the words on the page."

As a member of the LGBTQ community, Coleman is proud to bring the show and its inclusive message to long time fans and new.

"I'm honored that I get to like tell this specific story every night and like bring light to like this like demographic of people that isn't always super represented in like mainstream media. The LGBTQ community, the homeless community, poor starving artists. Living in New York City I’ve tried to be an actor for the last five years. There are definitely times when I've not had a lot of money or been working a survival job. Having those life experiences really informed my characters."

Thus far the tour has received rave reviews from Audiences. At this point RENT has been performed in all mediums from High School and Community Theatre Productions to the 2005 Film to the "Live" TV performance on FOX earlier this year. Whether you are a long time RENT-Head whose seen every version possible or experiencing the show for the first time, the touring production brings RENT to life in the way it was originally envisioned when it debuted on Broadway and won multiple Tony and Drama Desk Awards.

"We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback from all the audiences. There's always been people at the stage door that were out wanting autographs.  I didn't realize how huge of an impact RENT has had and all the fans that are still in love with the show. It's been really awesome to like to see all the people that we've like affected and inspired already and just like the past month.  The touring version is still with the original music director who worked with Jonathan Larson and it's trying to put forward a true to Jonathan's vision of the show. It's the same Tony nominated choreographer (Marlies Yearby). Evan Ensign was our director for the show who has worked with Michael Greif, the original Broadway director.  If there's a version of the show to see the tour is the one that is still closest to Jonathan Larson’s vision of the show and the original concept of it. We’re most of the same choreography and blocking that the original cast did in 1996. It's like really cool.

RENT Montage

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Contributor Jason Clevett |

Locale Calgary |

Topic Broadway Across Canada | Theatre |


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