There's no day but today.
That's the message behind Cresson Lake Playhouse's production of Jonathan Larson's "Rent," a rock opera based on Giacomo Puccini's opera "La Boheme," which explores AIDS, homelessness, sexuality and the struggle for art in an East Village setting.
"I am so excited and pleased we had the opportunity to produce this show, " Elaine Mastalski, executive director at CLP, said. "It was just released for community theaters to do in 2010. The theater is really stepping outside of the box in producing this."
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
The cast of Cresson Lake Playhouse's 'Rent' poses.
The production runs at 8 p.m. Oct. 14 to 16 and 21 to 23 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 17 and 24.
"Rent" tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York's Lower East Side in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS, she said.
"It's not a play for young children - it deals with drugs, AIDS and death," she said. "But I think, for teens, it might say, 'If you choose to do these things in life, these are some of the consequences you might have to deal with.' So there is a message.
"It's all about life choices. Our goal is not only to entertain, but to educate."
CLP is the first community theater in central Pennsylvania to have the chance to produce "Rent" since its release by Music Theatre International, she said, adding that the show marks director Joshua Hoover's directorial CLP debut.
"He brings a new vision to the play," she said.
Hoover, 27, of Windber recently graduated from Villanova University with a master of fine arts degree and is the artistic director of (Un)apologetic Productions in Johnstown. He described the play as "an extremely emotionally powerful show."
"It's a show that's essentially about love," he said. "It takes a lot of different avenues and painful emotions to get there, but at its core, it's about love. I think it's helpful to realize that."
The show is based on the real life story of Larson, a 35-year-old composer who suffered a fatal aortic aneurysm in 1996, just prior to the first off-Broadway preview of "Rent," at the New York Theatre Workshop, he said. The show won a Tony Award for best musical and the Pulitzer Prize for drama, an honor bestowed on only a handful of musicals. "Rent" is now the eighth longest-running musical in Broadway history, Hoover said, adding that it's been performed on five continents.
"Knowing that Larson is not here to enjoy this incredible success serves as a constant, poignant reminder of the show's message to live your life to the fullest - there's no day but today," he said.
Hoover is proud to be making his directorial debut at CLP with his favorite stage production.
"From the perspective of a 'Renthead,' for me, this is the No. 1 show in theatrical standing," he said. "So, from a director's standpoint, or from the standpoint of anyone involved in this production, all you really want is to do it justice."
In 2005, the film version of "Rent" was released, featuring many members of the original cast. That's how many, including Mallory Burns, a 24-year-old from Roaring Spring, discovered the work. In "Rent," she plays the part of Mimi, a 19-year-old exotic dancer with HIV.
"(I've) become a hardcore 'Renthead' ever since it became a movie," Burns said. "After that, I made sure I got to New York City to see the stage production when it came out on Broadway.
"The message of the entire show is just great," she said. "It's something that's still very relevant, and I enjoy that - that's what drew me in. My biggest hope is that people don't focus solely on all the risque things in the show. This show is going to make a lot of people in this area uncomfortable, so if people can get past their discomfort and see the show for what it really is, they're going to find it really enjoyable."
She was ecstatic to learn she got the part.
"When I went to audition, my best hope was just to get an ensemble part," she said. "When I got an e-mail that I got the part of Mimi, I was freaking out."
Hoover hopes that, above all, the show moves people in some way.
"If we're preaching to the choir of an audience member, I hope they're bolstered by the message," he said. "And if we're preaching to someone who needs a change of heart, we hope to provide that, too."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.