Rowlett teens’ toned-down version of ‘Rent’ gets renewed — at SMU
Will be performed at Caruth Auditorium on the SMU campus. Jan. 31 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. $5 suggested donation. Mix1029.com.
It’s one thing to get a new lease on life; it’s another to get a new "Rent."
Late last year, Rowlett High School officials triggered a firestorm when the school drama department’s production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical "Rent" was yanked from the schedule, largely the result of protests over its gay content.
Although the version the school planned to stage was an authorized adaptation with less profanity and some deleted songs and lyrics, parents and administrators still balked at the play that includes gay couples in loving, open relationships.
"Rent" also includes drug use and disrespect for authority, opponents argued, making it inappropriate for teens. When the plug was pulled in December, the issue seemed to be quashed.
But not quite so.
Josh Hart with the Mix 102.9-FM morning show learned of the controversy and wondered whether he could do something — anything — so that the show might go on. Hart enlisted his colleagues on the morning show to find a way to make it work.
"It’s really sad for these kids who have worked so hard, rehearsing for months and not getting the payoff to appear onstage," says Victoria Snee, one of the on-air personalities with Hart. "We had all been part of high school productions and know how much work goes into it. We put our heads together and decided to call around and seek out a venue, see what we could do to help."
Hart approached Southern Methodist University, which donated the Caruth Auditorium free of charge so that the students could finally perform. When the morning show team revealed to some of the students on-air that they would be able to perform, some of them wept, Snee said.
"Rent," which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama as well as the Tony Award for best musical of 1997, is a modern adaptation of "La Boheme," focusing on eight friends living in New York City as the height of the AIDS crisis. There are straight and gay characters, with some of both having HIV. At least one character dies of AIDS, and several contract HIV through intravenous drug use. It closed last fall after more than 10 years on Broadway, making it the seventh longest-running production in Broadway history.
The final product will not be the full-scale version of "Rent," nor even the abridged high school edition; instead, it will be a revue, featuring songs from the Jonathan Larson hit performed concert-style. There will be two shows on Saturday, Jan. 31: A matinee at 3 p.m. and an evening performance at 7 p.m.
Hart, Snee and their co-host, lesbian disc jockey Jen Austin, will also be on hand for the performance, and will introduce the students. There is no admission, although Mix 102.9 is asking for a minimum donation of $5. All proceeds will benefit DIFFA-Dallas.
"It was my idea to choose DIFFA," says Snee, who currently serves on the Style Council of the AIDS organization. "I just love it so much. Whatever I can do to help raise money for them, I do."
Snee says she and the other radio personalities have tried to steer clear of the controversy in favor of concentrating on the students. But considering Rowlett’s reaction against the show, it’s difficult to ignore that irony that an AIDS organization will be the recipient of proceeds from the students’ production.
Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty helms his second show at DTC, the Biblical epic "In the Beginning" with Cedric Neal, pictured left, as Adam. To read Arnold Wayne Jones’ review of it and DCT’s "Click Clack Moo."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 30, 2009.