The raw truth of ‘Rent’Top Highlights, Entertainment Feature Thursday, June 21st, 2012
Changing the hearts and minds of millions
Rent, the musical that made so many performers household names; shot its composer/lyricist Jonathan Larson through the roof; spawned runs on Broadway, the U.K. and Ireland; and hit the big screen; will be presented by San Diego Musical Theatre (SDMT) in their new home at The Birch North Park Theatre on University Avenue. The show opens June 23 and will run until July 8.
Producer/Executive Director Erin Lewis said the reason Rent was chosen was because SDMT wants to bring classic and contemporary musical theater to San Diego audiences. “Rent is considered a contemporary piece and the story is the story of a generation,” Lewis said. “However, you can change the time and place and it is still relevant … especially with the current economy. People still have their dreams, but are having a tough time trying to make it happen.”
SDMT has brought in two Broadway heavyweights for their production of Rent starting with director, Ron Kellum.
Kellum is no stranger to SDMT having directed four other productions in the past. One of those productions, Dreamgirls, took home the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle award for Outstanding Resident Musical.
Kellum, who started directing only seven years ago, got his start theatrically as a performer first.
“My theater career started at 12 years old and I’ve been going ever since,” Kellum said. “[But] after working with amazing directors like George C. Wolfe, Ann Reinking, Des Macnuff, I knew that once my performing career was over I wanted to become a director. I’ve been extremely blessed to work in an industry I absolutely love and I’m extremely passionate about. I love it!”
The second Broadway heavyweight is Gwen Stewart, who was in the original Broadway cast of Rent. Although Kellum and Stewart have never worked together before Kellum is familiar with her work and very excited to have the chance to work with her.
“This will be my first time working with Gwen; however, we’ve known each other for several years. I saw her in Big River at the Mark Tapper in L.A. and was blown away by her incredible voice. I’m thrilled to have her part of this production.”
Stewart, like Kellum, has worked here before, but her first time in San Diego was some time ago.
“I have worked in San Diego twice,” Stewart said. “Many, many moons ago I did the national tour of Big River and we had a stop in San Diego. That was in 1989 so I don’t remember what theater we were in. I do remember however, being young and adventurous. I went to Mexico by myself. I enjoyed the day but didn’t know mass transit well enough to make good judgments about time. Long story short, I was stuck in traffic and ended up missing my half-hour [call]. That meant I could not do the show that night. As fate would have it the director decided to check on the condition of the show that night. How scared was I! There were no cell phones, so no one knew where I was. I sat in the audience with the director watching the show. He sensed my nervousness while we watched my understudy. He leaned over and said ‘Don’t worry; I don’t plan to replace you. You better always be on time!’ I have been at least 30 minutes early for my shows ever since!”
Stewart also made her Broadway debut that same year in the little known musical called Starmites, in the role of Canibelle.
“Wow, you and Marty McFly went back in time for that one! Starmites was a show done on Broadway back in 1989 that I had the pleasure of performing in. It was very short-lived (three months I believe), but a fun show.”
As for her feelings on Rent, Stewart loves the truth, honesty and the raw nature of the show and how it speaks about subjects that people don’t want to think about.
“We see homelessness, drug addiction, infectious disease,” Stewart said. “It talks about all these issues with hope for a better life. I love shows that can push buttons without me realizing it or making me feel guilty.
She finds Rent to be biblical, and loved the way composer/lyricist Larson wrote the piece. “Jonathan put it all together in a way that educated, entertained, enlightened and changed the hearts and minds of millions around the globe. Rent continues to do so today. That is what I love about this show.”
The rest of the cast of Rent is from all over, according to Kellum. “We have an amazing cast,” Kellum said. “Several [are] from right here in San Diego, a few from L.A., a couple from New York and our Mark joins us from New Orleans.”
Lewis weighed in saying that those who came to audition were from all over.
“We had 400 people sign up for Rent. What is interesting is that about 75 percent of those who auditioned were from L.A. or other areas. We would love to cast more actors from San Diego, but we have a lot of great theater in our community and many times we are doing shows on top of each other, so that sort of makes the local talent pool a little smaller”.
Rent will be the second to last show in the SDMT 2012 season, and will be followed by Footloose and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, all being presented at their new home, The Birch North Park Theatre.
“We are very happy to be calling the Birch North Park Theatre our home and hope to have a very long relationship there,” Lewis said. “After Rent we finish up our 2012 season with Footloose in October and White Christmas in December. Our 2013 season begins with Chicago in February, The Sound of Music in May and a yet-to-be-named show in October. We are hoping we will be doing White Christmas in 2013, as well, making it a San Diego tradition.”
Lewis also pointed out that they have changed the times for their Thursday evening performances to 7:30 p. m. For more information visit the SDMT Web site at sdmt.org.
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