Starting September 12th, the Civic is bringing another big show to the main stage. You've probably heard of it before. You may have even seen it a time or two. In fact, if you're anything like me, you probably know the whole show verbatim. The show I'm talking about, of course, is the incredible Broadway smash RENT. Winner of 4 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, there's a lot to be excited about, as ticket sales have shown. Just one day after ticket sales were opened to the public on Monday, August 4th, over 50% of the seats in the first two weekends were sold, and the phone keeps ringing!
But you're not the only ones excited about the Civic's production of RENT. Talented actors and actresses from all over the region came to audition for the show, and while many in the cast are Rochester natives, big talent from other towns in the region also made the cut. I sat down with four of them earlier this week to discuss their thoughts on their RENT experience at the Civic so far.
Laura Vanelli (Joanne) is making the commute to Rochester all the way from Minneapolis to be in RENT. If her name sounds familiar, it should. Laura has been in several big shows at the Civic before, including Grease (Sandy), Les Miserables (ensemble), and Chicago (Roxie Hart). Laura told me when she recently moved back to Minneapolis to take her dream job, she didn't plan to come back to the Civic to do another show for a while. "But then I thought to myself, 'Oh, man, RENT!' and I decided I would make it work," says Laura, recalling the moment she decided to audition. Laura and I also talked about her previous experiences with theatre. Her first experience with theatre came during law school at the University of Minnesota when she joined up with the Theater of the Relatively Talentless, TORT for short, made up of law students looking to temporarily escape their grueling workloads by expelling some creative energy.
Hailing from way over in Owatonna, Cody Jensen (Tom Collins) also has quite a commute, but he's okay with that. "The cast is amazing. There's so much talent and so many great personalities," says Cody. When asked what RENT means to him, Cody told me "RENT has always had a special place in my heart ever since I first heard it. I was 10 or 11 years old, and I heard Tom and Angel's song "I'll Cover You" for the first time. I looked at my brother, and I said 'So, this song is about two guys who love each other?' and he was like 'Well, yeah,' and I just thought 'Cool.'" Cody's prior theatrical engagements include a wealth of on-stage experience at several theaters including Ramona Quimby (the dad), Leading Ladies (Jack), and Ricki Ticki Tavi (boy) at RCTC, Charlie's Aunt (Jack), Hay Fever (Simon), and She Loves Me (George) at Little Theatre of Owatonna, and Footloose (Willard) at the Pericles in Fairbault.
RENT will be Jen Giese's (ensemble) first appearance on the Civic Theatre stage, and her first theatrical performance since her days at university. Her previous roles include Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors and Angel in Anything Goes at Park High School, and various roles in the Madrigal Dinners and Cabaret variety shows at UW Eau Claire. Originally from Cottage Grove, Jen now lives in Byron with her husband, Matthew, their son, Simon, and daughter, Sofia. When asked about her thoughts on RENT, Jen had this to say: "So excited! I've had almost the entire show memorized since my junior year in high school. This is such a fun, energetic production. I decided I wanted to get back into theatre and randomly searched the Civic Theatre's website, and I was elated to see the next set of auditions were for RENT!"
Last, but not least, Winona resident Dylon Starr returns to the Civic stage to play the role of Mark in this upcoming production. You should remember Dylon from his performance as Carmen Giya in The Producers here at the Civic in March 2013, and you may have also seen him on stage recently as Max in Lend Me a Tenor in Mantorville. His other theatrical performances include Two by Two: The Story of Noah's Arc (Japheth) at Winona State University, and various roles in productions at the Zumbrota Community Theater. Regarding RENT, Dylon said "Wow. Lots of stuff to listen for in the lyrics. There's so much more to it than what it's labeled for. Most people just see homosexuality, HIV, and a drag queen, and that's too bad." When I asked him what his favorite part about being RENT is so far, Dylon replied "The challenge. Also, there isn't much dancing. I'm not much of a dancer." Even better, he says, is that Mark almost always sings melody. "It's great!"
Besides just being talented actors, it's also important to note that these commuters are also great volunteers. They spend most of their weeknights at the theatre preparing this show for the rest of us to enjoy without asking for anything in return (except, of course, the pleasure of doing it). Several of them also volunteer for other organizations here in Rochester and in other communities, including Seasons Hospice, the Dodge County High School Girl's Hockey Program, area churches, and more. Be sure to show your appreciation by coming down to the green room to congratulate them after the show – but first, don't forget to order your tickets before they're gone!