After weeks of uncertainty, a planned-canceled-postponed production of Jonathan Larson’s rock musical “Rent” will go on as originally planned March 27-30, 2014, in Trumbull, Conn.
First-year Trumbull High School principal Marc Guarino met with the school’s Thespian Society after school on Monday to announce the show’s restoration, ending nearly a month of drama.
Just before Thanksgiving, Guarino announced he was canceling the long-planned production of “Rent,” which deals frankly with HIV, sex, drug use, prostitution and homosexuality. His rationale: The musical’s topics were too sensitive and controversial for high-schoolers. The decision, back by the Fairfield County town’s school board and superintendent, led to a controversy of its own when Trumbull High senior Larissa Mark, the drama club’s president, took to social media, creating a Facebook page, Trumbull for Rent, drawing 7,500 likes. On Dec. 9, he announced the production could proceed, but in late April, allowing for a cross-curricular discussion of the musical’s themes.
Mark said Monday that the Thespian students didn’t erupt immediately at Guarino’s Monday announcement, which was brief and which alluded to “a lot of meaningful conversations in the past few weeks” surrounding “Rent.”
“It took a little while to sink in,” the senior said. “As he was leaving, we all applauded and we were all so excited.”
Howard Sherman, former head of the American Theater Wing and an avid blogger, took up the cause, leading the national media — including the New York Times, Washington Post and National Public Radio — to cover the goings-on.
The production remained in doubt, with auditions canceled, until Monday’s announcement. Mark, who will be director Jessica Spillane’s student director and stage manager for “Rent,” said auditions will start after the winter break, likely on Jan. 3.
White Plains native Larson adapted Puccini’s “La Boheme,” setting it in New York’s Alphabet City in the age of AIDS and AZT. The musical’s over-arching message is one of empathy, friendship and compassion, set in a gritty world of uncertainty and pain. Larson died suddenly the night before the show’s Off-Broadway premiere, but “Rent” won four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
“Rent” has been produced without controversy across the Lower Hudson Valley since the “school version” (with milder language and one song removed) became available in 2007. There have been youth-theater productions in Nyack, Croton, West Nyack and White Plains.
Hastings was the first high school to stage it in Westchester, in 2009; Ossining staged it last spring.
Gerard Marciano produced the show in Hastings. At the time, he had an answer for those who might have questioned its appropriateness.
“Listen, ‘Romeo & Juliet’ has two 13-year-olds,” he said. “In the course of four days, they fall in love, get married, have sex and kill themselves. Is ‘Romeo & Juliet’ about suicide? No. Because this play has certain elements in it that might be challenging, it doesn’t mean it’s about lesbianism, about AIDS. It’s a great work of art because it rises above that and it becomes about something much more positive, and that’s why people want to keep coming back to it.”
Paris Beato, who played Mimi in Ossining, said “Rent” was more intense than anything she’d done before. The senior said the question of whether to stage Larson’s musical shouldn’t be about the content, but about the commitment of cast and crew.
“It’s a very difficult show, much more serious and it takes a lot of hard work,” Beato said.