Students take out a new lease on

Musical opens next week

Oct. 30, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

There was a noticeable buzz of excitement in the Champlain Valley Union High School auditorium on Monday afternoon. Cast and crew of the upcoming production of “Rent” saw their weeks of hard work coming together. An industrial-style set was ready for rehearsal and the six-piece band took its place under the metal railings and catwalks.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Vocal Music Director Nate Venet at the piano goes over a song with Ethan Tischler (left) and Eric Ziegleman. CVU Drama’s fall musical ‘Rent’ will be on stage at Champlain Valley Union High School Nov. 5-8. For tickets, call 482-6955.

With just over a week before show time, some cast members couldn’t wait for the curtain to open for real in what could be CVU’s most adult-themed play.

“It’s to the point where I know it’s going to be really exciting and I can’t believe it’s almost here,” said Alex Hovi, a Williston cast member.

“Rent” premieres on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Nov. 8.

CVU Drama Director Sebastian Ryder said CVU is one of a handful of high schools in the country to perform “Rent.” The production’s subject matter and story plays well with high school students — both performers and audience members. Ryder said the musical embodies one of her favorite Mahatma Gandhi quotes she likes to tell her students: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“Thematically, (‘Rent’) is brilliant for high school students,” Ryder said.

A two-act musical, “Rent” tells the story of a group of young musicians and artists living in New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1990s. Much of the subject matter revolves around homosexuality and AIDS, and life and death. The musical has won several Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was made into a feature film in 2005.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
The cast of CVU Drama’s production of ‘Rent.’

Playwright Jonathan Larson, who based much of the work on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” wrote the words and music. Larson died in 1996 from an aortic aneurysm just prior to “Rent’s” opening performance.

The musical just finished up its run on Broadway in September after more than 5,100 performances spanning 12 years.

The version of “Rent” the CVU cast will perform is a little different than the original Broadway production. A few lines in the song “La Vie Boheme” have been removed due to drug references and the song “Contact” was removed completely. A few lines of dialogue have also been altered. The changes are part of “Rent: School Edition” licensed by Music Theatre International.

Twenty-two students have been cast in various roles, some big and some small, although all have important stage time, Ryder said.

And even with the scope of adult themes presented in the musical, Ryder said the students understand the responsibility of giving an honest performance. She said the cast has been one of the most professional she’s worked with.

“These students are among the best,” Ryder said. “I’ve worked with college students who aren’t as good or have the skills necessary to pull off convincing performances.”

Many cast members said they’d been familiar with “Rent” since middle school.

“We all know the show really well,” said Ali Barnes, a Charlotte cast member. Barnes plays the mother of Mimi Marquez, an exotic dancer with HIV.

Hovi had done a few plays during his middle school years, but hadn’t tried out for any high school play until “Rent” came along. He plays Angel, a gay drag queen with AIDS.

Hinesburg cast member Hilary Whitney, who plays Joanne, a bisexual lawyer, said her familiarity with the songs made it easier to learn the entire musical. Much of the play is sung, with only a few sections of spoken word.

“Music is a lot easier to memorize than lines,” Whitney said.

The starkness of the set also plays a major part in the production. The set was designed by St. George student Matt Winter, who built it as part of his graduation challenge. Completed over a four-day period last week, Winter welded and constructed the giant set, complete with ladders and railings, with the help of CVU’s tech department.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
The cast of CVU Drama’s ‘Rent’ rehearses with vocal music director Nate Venet.

For the design, Winter read the script and looked at pictures of New York City to give him ideas. His family background with the Lyric Theatre Company in Burlington gave him experience in building sets.

“I’ve grown up building sets, but this is the first time I’ve ever designed one from scratch,” Winter said.

Ryder said the cast is excited and nervous at the same time. She also said she’s never convinced a play will come out OK until the curtain opens. Even then there are nerves, but she said she keeps her faith in her student performers. She hopes this play will be an unforgettable one for the CVU community.

“I think if everybody in the world saw ‘Rent’ or did a production of it, there would be no more war,” Ryder said.

“Rent” premieres Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Nov. 8. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors and can be purchased in advance at 482-6955.