Out of Town
RENT 20th Anniversary Tour – No Day But Today
Anyone who knows me personally can attest to the fact I do not adore numbers. When it is time for my annual birthday celebration, my circle of friends know I love cake, I adore gifts, and I graciously sip as much champagne as is generously poured. However when it comes to numbers, those dreaded things are purposely left off the table of discussion. While addressing the uncomfortable topic of aging, I was hard pressed when faced with the alarming realization the revolutionary rock musical Rent is now celebrating its 20th anniversary tour. It seems like just yesterday, although 1996 was the actual year, the world was introduced to Mark, Roger, Angel, and the gang. A group of New York based friends I’ve always found much more compelling and relatable than Monica, Rachel, Phoebe and the boys. The trophy mantel for the original production of Rent is impressive, including collecting the Pulitzer Prize, several Tony’s, Drama Desk & Laurence Olivier Awards, just to name a few. The brainchild of wunderkind Jonathan Larson, Rent was fleshed out of his desire to bring contemporary musical theater to the MTV Generation. Larson successfully accomplished that goal, and so much more.
That original Broadway cast included in its ranks, Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, Jessie L. Martin, and Anthony Rapp, all of whom have gone on to become household names, featured in multiple television series, movies, authoring books and one voicing a certain Ice Queen named Elsa in a little film turned global phenomenon called Frozen. Rent honestly brought a new generation of fans to an aging Broadway, which at the time was thought of an older, culturally elite haven or something strictly enjoyed by out of town tourists. Rent became a pop culture revolution, decades before Hamilton the Musical, The Producers, The Book of Mormon or Wicked. No other contemporary musical landed two of its original cast members, Adam Pascal and Daphne Rubin-Vega, on the cover of Newsweek Magazine’s May 13, 1996 edition under the tagline “Rent Electrifies Broadway.” Inspiring a generation of ever loyal fans, affectionately referred to as “Rent-heads” this show and its message with music, lyrics and book all written by Larson, brought its aggressive rock score, thoroughly diverse cast and unapologetic storylines about HIV/AIDS and drug use to center stage.
For one week only, Windy City audiences are granted another visit to the underground world of NYC squatters, this time with a non-Equity touring cast currently playing at the Oriental Theatre. The set design of Paul Clay is a little more compact than the original Broadway Alphabet City, East Village neighborhood of New York, but as soon as the cast began to sing, all fell right into place. The sold out audience sharing this magnificent, year long journey with these young street artists struggling to find their way through a neighborhood ravaged by AIDS and bourgeoning gentrification. Directed by Evan Ensign based on original direction by Michael Greif, this Rent continued the tradition of casting remarkably young talent, many of whom don’t look old enough to have been alive when this show first bowed on Broadway. We start with videographer Mark (Danny Harris Kornfeld) and his roommate Roger (Kaleb Wells) who opened the show with a rousing rendition of “Rent,” a rock and roll anthem about income inequality and their shared inability to pay for their loft space. The song concluding with an all too familiar power outage. That is what you get when your electricity is supplied through a single extension cord dangling out the window. Good thing “Spike Lee is shooting down the street” for added light. Their good friend, anarchist MIT professor, and recent mugging victim, Tom Collins (Aaron Harrington) had his wounds tended to by the talented hands of street percussionist and drag queen, Angel (David Merino). Neighbor Mimi (Skyler Volpe) certainly had the requisite look and sinewy build to pull off a leading lady who happened to be both drug addict and part-time stripper. Of course she quickly caught the eye of Roger. Their flirty “Light My Candle” and her glitter shimmying solo “Out Tonight” commanded all on eyes to the Latina temptress. As for the other ladies in the cast, Joanne (Jasmine Easler) had the strongest pipes and sharpest comic timing. Her “Tango: Maureen” with Kornfeld remained an Act One highlight. Her love interest, avant-garde performance artist, Maureen (Katie Lamark) was also predominately played for laughs. I must admit, with age I have found my allegiances in this relationship has swayed from Maureen to Joanne. While women in rubber may always be flirting with you, Maureen, Easler’s Joanne, a socially conscious lawyer, is the real prize. Regardless of where you may fall in the divide of who is right and wrong in their often volatile and combustible relationship, both women’s vocal prowess during “Take Me or Leave Me” did the material proud.
Marlies Yearby’s loose choreography fit the staging well, especially during “Tango: Maureen” and “I’ll Cover You.” Angela Wendt’s costuming was requisite early 1990’s street chic. The high-waisted and wide legged jeans were a giggle prompting visual treat and a slightly embarrassing walk down memory lane. The thrift look here continued to work. Jonathan Spenser’s lighting design was also, pardon the pun, low-rent believable, in the best sense of the expression. It was legitimately conceivable this entire production was wired through the one large extension cord that went out Roger and Mark’s loft window. As for the tunes, Samuel Bagala’s masterful music direction and five piece band were simply magic, grinding out Jonathan Larson’s rock-infused score. I firmly believe Larson is smiling down, the proudest guardian angel of this entire production.
The life lesson “No Day But Today” was perfectly captured in Jonathon Larson’s phenomenal tribute to the unique artisans and colorful characters who populated his life as a young playwright in New York City in the late 1980’s. He so captured the anxiety, hunger and desperation of this time. The AIDS crisis was obliterating the artistic community at epidemic levels and designer drug use ran rampant. Like any great writer, he channeled the pain that surrounded him and made a really fantastic, life-affirming musical about the strength found from chosen family and the immediacy and importance of living for the now. It is unfortunate Larson didn’t live long enough to see the massive fruits of his labors come to culmination. Shockingly, he passed away from an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm, believed to have resulted from Marfan syndrome, the day before the first preview of Rent was to make its debut. How could you measure the life and talent of this remarkable man? Why, “Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes” would be an appropriate start. RENT may be celebrating its 20th anniversary, but this is not a dust covered footnote of musical theatre history. This young ensemble did both Larson and his material proud.
Rent’s 20th Anniversary Tour is now playing through May 14, 2017 at the Oriental Theatre
The Olivier Awards Return
Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.
Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.
The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.
The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.
The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.
And the nominees are:
Out of Town
The Unpacking of the First Métis Man of Odesa, An Interview
Punctuate! Theatre is unpacking a love story. A love story about a couple. A love story about Ukraine. And a love story against an unbelievably complicated backdrop. Starting at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, the company is ushering forth the world premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa before it spins itself out on stages across Canada. Spanning continents and set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Métis playwright and Punctuate! Artistic Director, Matthew MacKenzie (Dora Award-winning playwright for Bears, After the Fire, The Particulars) joins forces with his wife, the award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova (Odesa Film Festival Grand Prix – The Golden Duke award-winner NONNA, Two People), to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Drawn from their real-life love story, a story that is ultimately still unfolding to this very day, First Métis Man of Odesa unpacks the journey of Matt and Masha’s love that spans continents where distance and conflicts can’t tame their passionate connection. After meeting on a theatre research trip in Kyiv, a spark is struck, and a romance between a Métis Playwright and a Ukrainian artist is ignited, taking them from the beaches of the Black Sea to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, within the onset of a global pandemic, the eruption of a brutal war, but also the many joyous moments that this union begets, including marriage and the birth of their son.
During the height of the lockdown in 2021, an initial version of this piece was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre, written by MacKenzie and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, First Métis Man of Odesa, as directed by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions/Punctuate!’s Barvinok), makes its stage debut, offering a compelling continuation of the initial story told in that first radio play. The couple, Matthew MacKenzie and his wife, Mariya Khomutova, sat down with Frontmezzjunkies and thankfully answered a few questions about their incredible journey from that first love-struck connection to its World Premiere at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.
Tell me, how you decided to embark on telling your own story and what the beginning of this creative process looked like for you two?
Initially, Matt wrote an audio play for Factory Theatre about our romance, then getting married and having their son during the pandemic. The plan had been to expand the piece for the stage, a plan that took on much urgency after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Both the pandemic and war have a deeply dehumanizing effect, so our hope in telling our love story is to share the human side of these major world events; a human side that headlines and news clips can’t fully capture.
What aspect of your character, or your involvement with/creation of this play resonates the most powerfully inside you?
For both of us, the opportunity to share all the joy, humour, anger, and frustration we’ve experienced in the past few years is a really therapeutic process. Many of our friends and family only know snippets of what we’ve been through, so the opportunity to tell our story across the country is one we are deeply grateful for.
The phrase “you don’t know what someone is carrying with them” has really hit home over the past couple of years, as we have had to contend with some pretty epic challenges as a couple and as individuals.
Tell me a bit about what it is like to bring your character to the stage? What does mean to you to be telling this story?
We play ourselves in the play, but we very much play versions of ourselves in the play. We had to mine conflict between us out of a few outbursts, as there haven’t actually been a lot of [conflicts] in our relationship so that we could bring the drama of what we are going through to the fore.
Challenges of playing ourselves have included the fact that [Matt] is not a trained actor, while Mariya is. Mariya though comes from a theatre tradition that was almost entirely focused on the classics, so playing herself in a play based on her life is definitely a new and challenging experience!
Tell me a bit more about your development process? Was there a typical ‘first read’ or was it different, given your own story inspired the work…
We were able to conduct several development workshops over a period of six months. There was no shortage of content that we could derive from our lives, so the challenge was determining what to keep and what to let fall away. Even after our first read, we cut 15 pages from our rehearsal draft. Events in our lives and in Ukraine will no doubt continue to necessitate the evolution of our script.
What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?
For Mariya, it was buying into the idea (that is quite a common one in Canada) that a play about someone’s real life can be art. Seeing Hailey Gillis’s My Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale, really helped her believe this was possible.
For Matt, it met the challenge of performing for the first time in ten years. The last time he performed, he made his friends promise they would never let him perform again, but all agreed it didn’t make much sense for anyone else to play him in this piece.
The most rewarding?
Having already performed several shows in Kamloops, the most rewarding part of this process is sharing this story with refugees from Ukraine. Their responses have been incredible and have really encouraged us to share our story with as many people as possible.
What do you want the audience to get from this play, and from your character?
We want the audience to join us as we relive our sweeping love story, from Odesa to Toronto. We want the audience to see the human side of the conflict in Ukraine. And we want the audience to leave the theatre with the hope that love can and will conquer all.
First Métis Man of Odesa is in Toronto for its world premiere run at the Franco Boni Theatre @ The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8, 2023 (opening March 31). Following the world premiere in Toronto, First Métis Man of Odesa will appear at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, The Cultch in Vancouver, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. For information and tickets, please visit theatrecentre.org/event/first-metis-man-of-odesa/
Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T
Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde
Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.
Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.
Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.
American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little Pill; Waitress; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at AmericanRepertoryTheater.org.
Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.
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