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

New Sooke councillors face old issues and new challenges

First meeting of new council sets the stage for the future

Passenger passes out on a bus in Sooke

Man was revived and was alert and coherent

Island Corridor Foundation optimistic about restoring rail service

If green-lighted, first priority would be Langford to Victoria route

Firefighters rescue horse stuck in Saanich mud

‘It happens more often than you’d think,’ says deputy chief

Food service workers at Victoria airport protest for second time in four months

Negotiations continue to drag on with employer Compass Group Canada, VAA refuses to engage

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Vancouver Island remembers

Important stories shared as Islanders salute those who made the greatest sacrifice

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

Cowichan school district defends lack of notice to parents following elementary student arrest

Officials with School District 79 stand by their decision not to send out an alert.

Canadians more prepared for weather disaster than financial one: poll

RBC recommends people check their bank app as often as the weather app

B.C. dog owner sues after pet killed in beaver trap

A Kamloops man is suing the operator of a trapline north of the city after his dog died

Most Read