Opera Wyoming brings RENT to downtown Casper

The date is January 25, 1996. It’s what was to be the opening night preview of Johnathan Larson’s new show, a rock opera called Rent.

The night before was the last dress rehearsal for the show and it went more or less without a hitch. Larson was in attendance and, after the performance, was interviewed by a New York Times reporter.

“I think I can have a life as a songwriter,” Larson said.

Except he didn’t.

In the early morning hours of January 25, Larson’s roommate came home to find Larson dead on the floor, a kettle whistling on the stove.

“An autopsy later revealed an aortic dissection, a tear in the artery that carries blood away from the heart,” Esquire reported. “It was believed to have been caused by undiagnosed Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that affects connective tissue. Larson was 35 years old.”

35 years old. She was 35 years old. She was 35 years old. She was 35 years old. ancient.

The night Jonathan Larson died was also the opening night of his rock opera, Rent. When cast and crew members found out, they were heartbroken. They did not know what to do. So they did the only thing they could think of. They played.

Initially, the cast had opted to do a direct reading/singing from the script, without any of the extra stage or theater pieces. But when they got to the big number, ‘La Vie Boheme’, they couldn’t hold back any longer. They performed the remainder of the show in its entirety, dedicating that performance and all subsequent performances to Larson.

The rental was successful. It ran on Broadway for 12 years.

The film Tick, Tick…BOOM!, based on Larson’s life, said Rent “changed the definition of what a musical could be, what it could sound like, the kind of stories it could tell.”

After years of writing musicals and one-man shows that just couldn’t find an audience, Jonathan Larson became an overnight sensation. He just wasn’t there to see it.

In the body, anyway. But in spirit, he was present throughout that show and now, 25 years after his Broadway debut, the spirit of Jonathan Larson still permeates each and every performance of Rent.

Now, the spirit of Jonathan Larson is alive and well at The Lyric Theater in downtown Casper as Opera Wyoming presents Rent to Casper to audiences.

Steven Spicher, the director of Rent, said Opera Wyoming approached him with an idea, one he jumped on immediately.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of groups around town over the years and have managed to set things up so I can step in from time to time,” Spicher said.

Spicher has worked with the NCHS Drama Department, Stage III, Casper Children’s Theater and more. He says that his true passion is acting, but it is impossible not to be passionate about this show and, more specifically, about the cast that he has formed.

“The truth is, I’m a lousy director,” Spicher laughed. “What I like to do is gather talent.”

And that’s exactly what he’s done with the cast of RENT. The cast seems a bit younger than some may expect, but there’s a reason for that.

“They bring energy, passion, adaptability and a willingness to try new things,” Spicher said. “But they also allow themselves to be afraid for a moment. A lot of older actors say, ‘Oh no, I need a net.’ But this cast is not like that.”

Adaptability has proven to be a major theme in this show; a show that was put together in about a month. The cast began work through staging at the Casper Children’s Theatre. A week before the opening, they moved into The Lyric and built the stage. During its opening night, a technical error could have derailed the entire show, but the cast pressed on. They pushed through. And the audience went crazy, because although the power went out, that night a different power was shown in The Lyric. And it is that power that has been maintained throughout each subsequent show.

Rent is a show, really, about having a chosen family. And that’s exactly what the cast of this show has become.

“Another beauty of this show, another personal joy, is that there is such a good cross section of these people that, in one way or another, I have been able to get involved in children’s theater over the years,” Spicher shared. “Andrew Brown was in children’s theater shows from day one with me. Cam Allender was in Kinder-Drama. Jessica Cowen told me the other night that I directed the first show she was in. Same with Tiana (Saunders). My son is in the band.”

There is a familiarity on display in this show, not only among the cast members, but also for the audience. That’s why Rent has continued to inspire, engage and challenge audiences for the past 25 years. These characters are people we know, people we love.

People we have lost.

“Being on Rent is incredibly important to me because the show is about a chosen family,” said Andrew Brown, who plays Mark. “The bonds of love in these relationships are really because these people have chosen to be in each other’s lives and are often the only people who really understand them for who they are. This idea is very important in our lives.” and the show really comes close.” all from a lens of love and being there for each other.”

And it’s not just the characters we recognize in this show; are the fights too. While we are no longer in the AIDS epidemic that was rampant in the 1980s, the LGBTQ+ community is still being oppressed; they are still blamed for things that have nothing to do with them, like the current Monkeypox outbreak.

More than that, they are still told by those in power that their feelings are not valid, that their lives do not count, that their love is not real. That’s something these people have to deal with every day, and that’s why shows like Rent are so important.

“I think the Rent show is more prevalent in society than ever,” said Taiya Vigil, who plays Maureen on the show. “With all the issues that we’ve been facing in recent times, especially for the LGBTQ+ community, I’m very lucky to be a part of it to be able to be a representation of groups that need it.”

For Dauvi Rodriguez, Rent provided an opportunity to see a bit of themselves in a show and, specifically, in a character. Rodríguez plays the role of Ángel in the Opera Wyoming production, and it is a role that Rodríguez was born to play; one that fits like a glove… or a high heel.

“This is very biased, but Rent is one of my favorite shows,” Rodriguez said. “And Angel… I love her to death. I discovered Rent in high school and she was a good representation for me, because I saw an openly queer black person on TV, so I fell in love right away.”

Dauvi, like many people who first heard that Rent would perform at Casper, was pleasantly surprised, given the theme of the show.

“For me, it’s about self-expression and being unapologetically yourself, especially in a small town called Casper,” they said. “If you had told me, like, two years ago that someone was producing Rent in Casper, I wouldn’t have believed you. So it shows how progressive Casper is becoming, and that gives me hope and faith in this town.”

And really, that’s one of the most important themes of Rent: hope. Hope in uncertain times. Hope in less than ideal circumstances. Hope in the face of hate, in the face of oppression, in the face of death.

Jonathan Larson was hopeful. He had pretty high hopes. He was hoping to “make it,” that he would create something that would resonate with people. And that is exactly what he did. In doing so, he offered hope to hundreds of thousands of people through his program. That’s what Rent does, and that’s what the Opera Wyoming cast hopes to convey at each and every performance (of which there are only two left…and one of them is already sold out).

“The opportunity to be a part of Rent means a lot to me,” said Kayla Colburn, who plays the role of Mimi. “I’ve always liked the idea of ​​being a part of something that’s bigger than me, leaving a lasting impact on others. I value emotions a lot because I think it’s the most beautiful way for people to connect on a deeper level.” .and I think that plays a big part in why people love the theater. They’re going to feel less alone in their personal struggles. Opera Wyoming has given me the opportunity to reach out to the Casper community and remind them that even when the darkness seems to take over, they are not alone, they are important and cared for. My goal for the show would be to leave the audience with the feeling that they can get through anything in life as long as they remember their loved ones by their side. This It brings a sense of close love and community to Casper, which is exactly what I was hoping for.”

When Jonathan Larson sat down to write Rent, he wanted to “write what he knew.” Living in New York City in the 1980s, he knew he was destitute. He knew about homophobia. He knew what it felt like to lose friends. But he also knew of hope. And he never stopped having it, not just for him and his own career, but for the world as a whole. That’s why he chose to end his show not with death, but with life. Rent is a show about life, about loss, and about love (whole seasons!). That’s what Opera Wyoming has brought to Casper. It is a show for those of us who have ever lost someone. It’s a show for someone who may be struggling to find or accept their identity. It is a show that says, with its fist raised and its chest out, that love is stronger than hate, than fear, than death. It is a program that allows its cast to maintain hope. It allows them to say, with one voice: “Today, this performance is for the misunderstood, for those who are alone, for those who are afraid. Today is for the musician who dreams of succeeding. Today is for the couple who is constantly telling them that their love doesn’t count, that it’s not real.Today is for the young man or woman who is finally coming to terms with what was always meant to be.

But, most importantly, today… it’s for you.”

Tickets for rental can be purchased here, although there is only one show left that still has tickets available.

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