Musical explores the ups and downs of love and loyalty
EIGHT friends’ extraordinary year is being brought to life by the Gallery Players.
The regional premiere of the award-winning, milestone music Rent is taking place at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre until July 10.
Based on Puccini’s La Boh�me, it’s a rarely performed tale of love and loyalty among starving artists in New York’s East Village.
The group of friends are celebrating Christmas Eve on the Lower East Side. Over the next year, as relationships grow and change, they struggle with paying the rent, eviction, drugs and HIV.
Puccini’s version saw the Parisian bohemians afflicted with tuberculosis. For creator Jonathan Larson, the modern equivalent was clearly AIDS, a disease which had struck down several of his closest friends.
Rent ran on Broadway for several years, winning ten Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score.
The Gallery Players - who have a reputation in the region for quality and excellence - have relished taking on the challenging production says director Steve Wooldridge.
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“It’s a very difficult one to stage, it’s certainly not your normal musical. We have a bit of a reputation for choosing material that others would, perhaps, shy away from because of the difficulty.”
They’ve been rehearsing three nights a week and the odd Sunday for the last three months; while it’s been fun it’s certainly been challenging.
“For example, we’ve had to make a film as one of the main characters films everything in the show; then you see the film at the end. The staging is very minimalist, it’s fairly free and a lot of conventions are thrown to the wolves; people are asked to suspend their disbelief,” he adds.
The crew and 23-strong cast - including eight leading roles - were determined to do justice to the big issues tackled in the musical so sought expert advice in the shape of former and current addicts.
“Although it’s an amateur group you have to take a professional approach, which is to research it. We asked Brian Tobin at the Iceni Project to bring them along to a rehearsal,” says Steve.
“We were blown away by that because they spoke to us freely, they were fantastic people and it eliminated a lot of the prejudices or preconceived conceptions that people have.”
They took part in a question and answer session with the cast and just circulated, chatting about their lives, the issues they had to face, why they had got on to drugs and why they were hoping to come off them.
Steve says it really helped with the way the cast approached their characters.
“It’s very easy as an actor to think ‘oh, I can put on my acting coat’ if you like and say ‘I know what that’s all about’ - but you don’t. You can imagine what it’s like, but you need more information. So it was about the way they moved, the feelings they experienced, all of those things really helped.”
Another challenge was the fact there’s virtually no dialogue, with the music making it so emotional and a groundbreaking piece of theatre.
“It’s rock and, having said that, there’s some beautiful, touching lyrical numbers in it; a real mixture. It’s going to move people, make them laugh, make them cry and that to me is the sign of a good musical.”
Steve, who’s directed many productions during his 15 or so years with the Gallery Players, says he’s had a ball at the helm of this production.
“I’ve never directed a company where people have been engaged with the material, excited by the material, learning the material, researching it you know,” he enthuses.
Rent, supported by the charity Body and Soul and part of the Ip-art festival, runs at the New Wolsey until July 10. Read the review online.