Theatre group is up for Rent

By Michele Hunter

The musical production of Rent is one of Broadway's greats - and thanks to Tauranga Musical Theatre it's coming to town. Kiri Gillespie spoke with director Sara Toomer about bringing the controversial Pulitzer Prize-winning show to a possibly more conservative Tauranga audience.

A senak peek inside Westside Theatre reveals the stage as a visual squalor - there are rusty bits of tin, junk and graffiti everywhere.
In one word, director Sara Toomer sums it up as "derelict" - exactly what she was after.
Toomer is bringing Rent from Broadway to Tauranga and hopes we are ready for it.
Rent is one of the world's most powerful rock-operas. It tells the tale of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York's Lower East Side, under the shadow of HIV/Aids.
How well some of that will sit with some of Tauranga's more conservative theatre-goers is a bit of lucky dip. While the junk and graffiti are merely props, there are some fairly edgy scenes on offer, Toomer confesses.
She and musical director Mandy Hall have had Rent in the pipeline for about two years since they teamed up for Rock Revival Volume 2.
"We kind of asked each other 'do you think Tauranga's ready?'."
Rent's spectrum of characters offer plenty of food for thought. They range from a gay man with HIV, anarchists, an S&M dancer, an ex-junky, a drag queen with Aids, a lawyer and a Jewish documentary film-maker.
This production of it will be the first performed in Tauranga.
"It was probably about two years of 'yes, we are doing it' then 'how are we going to tackle it?'.
"We could appeal to the cultural side of Tauranga, by referring to the fact the show is based on a Puccini's opera La Boheme - like Miss Saigon is based on Madame Butterfly - but there is this real edgy and nasty side to it as well," Toomey says.

"In Miss Saigon there is the whole prostitution thing and there are a lot of intimate scenes - like there is with Rent - but this is on a homosexual side. Some people might struggle with it, but that's only one side of it.
"It's really about 'no day but today', living today like there is no tomorrow because you never know what's going to happen."
Toomer says the smaller theatre will offer a more intimate show, "which will work quite well".
The smaller theatre is also perfect for dinner shows, which Toomer brings back to Tauranga with this production. Wednesday night shows will offer a buffet dinner and dessert to theatre-goers.
"It's something we used to do many years ago. There are some places around New Zealand that do it really successfully, like in Auckland it works really well.
"So my husband and I thought 'why can't we do that in Tauranga?'. There's no reason why not."
Rent is the seventh longest-running show on Broadway and has collected 10 Tony Awards, 10 Drama Desk Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Theatre World Award, all in 1996.
Rent opens on May 7 at Westside Theatre, 17th Ave. Tickets are available from Ticketdirect from $29 to $60 (for dinner shows).

- Bay of Plenty Times

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