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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘Bureaucratic mix-up’ could lead to Sooke daycare closure

Sooke CAO confident daycare situation can be resolved

Sooke launches Hockeyville bid

Up for grabs: $250,000 in arena upgrades and an NHL game

New Sooke education academy focuses on environment, community

Program still requires school board approval

Sooke boardwalk reopens to public

Downed tree damages structure during last week’s wind storm

VIDEO: Rare ‘ice circle’ spotted on Kamloops river

An ice circle or ice pan, has formed in the chilly waters just east of the Yellowhead Bridge

Uber, Lyft approved for ride-hailing in Lower Mainland

Kater Technologies Inc.’s application was rejected

Investigators in wildfire-torn Australia head to site of B.C. airtanker crash

The B.C. government sends condolences to Port Alberni-owned Coulson Aviation

RCMP investigating sexual allegation against Lower Mainland police officer

Delta officer suspended while the alleged off-duty incident involving a co-worker is investigated

Former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse in B.C. granted day parole

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s

VIDEO: Person in wheelchair narrowly avoids collision with car in Kelowna

There were no injuries in the scary looking near-accident last week in Rutland

Here’s what Canada is doing to stop the coronavirus from getting in

Health officials are monitoring multiple possible cases in Canada

B.C. still struggling to control non-resident medical care fraud

Unpaid bills, out-of-province claimants a costly legacy of MSP

Most Read