For decades, KWMP (K-W Musical Productions) has portrayed theatre shows. From Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat to The Wizard of Oz to 2010’s Footloose, audience-goers have fallen in love with the community theatre company for their exceptional standards and incredibly talented cast of actors and vocalists.
In 2012, leading actor/vocalist Amanda Kind will step behind the scenes to direct this season’s Rent; the Jonathan Larsen classic of a group of Bohemian friends struggling to survive in New York’s Lower East Side circa the late 80’s, early 90’s.
From being impoverished, to fighting the AIDS epidemic, Rent is one of very few musicals that dives into the dirty underground of real human issues. Bringing to light drug addiction and society’s negative intonation toward the gay and homosexual community, the musical Rent would not only win multiple Tony and Drama Desk Awards, but also a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996.
The musical, not only famous among theatre-heads, was translated to the big screen in 2005 with many of the original Broadway actors reprising their character roles. With resurgence the musical found with mainstream movie goers, many of us in my generation have found a place within the confines of Rent’s classic story. Whether our problems run as deep as our lovelorn, grief-stricken, charming characters is irrelevant. Rent cuts the bullshit, and portrays the grimiest of human nature teaching us how to survive when we’re stuck treading on the bottom.
Although I could have interviewed each of Kind’s cast members for five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, I was satisfied with speaking to Eric De Costa (portraying Mark Cohen) and Sarah Scott (portraying Joanne Jefferson) for the better part of a half hour. It was obvious after my first few questions that these actors are ready to give us fans the Rent fix we’re waiting for –a rock opera to fist pump to; peppered with messages of hope and seasoned with love.
VR: This is an iconic role. Anthony Rapp is not only the actor who originally played ‘Mark’ on Broadway; he also recreated the character for the movie. Tell me about what kind of responsibility do you feel to this character?
Eric De Costa: There is some weight on my shoulders. There is an expectation. He played the role really well on stage. There is an expectation, and with that comes responsibility. I’m really excited and I’m nervous in a good way. I’m not afraid, but I want to do the character justice. But it’s going to be great!
VR: Mark really narrates the story of Rent. When you took on this role, how did you prepare for your audtion?
ED: I really wanted to be character when I auditioned for the role. I had been practicing the music in the hopes that I’d be called back. You have to get your head around the fact that Mark is the connector with these people. You have to apply it to your real life and imagine how you’d interpret his actions if these were your own friends.
VR: Did you have to learn the Tango?
ED: We had to learn it and it’s great! Sarrah (Joanne) is a fabulous dancer. We have already staged it, and it’s fun!
VR: You knew character of Mark when you auditioned; what did you think was going to be the most challenging part of the role?
ED: Everyone knows Rent. It’s huge in this generation. I don’t want to say I’m worried – but I want to deliver the message. It’s not like any other narrator role – he narrates as he’s a part of it all that’s happening. The biggest job for me is to focus on bringing these people together and telling the story with the best of my ability.
VR: Tell me about being a part of KWMP.
ED: This isn’t the first production I’ve been a part of. The first show I did was Joseph, and then afterwards I was a part of I Love You Because and was involved with Footloose, as well.
VR: What type of background would someone need to be a part of KWMP?
ED: I know that KWMP doesn’t look for a background. Some people have gone to musical theatre, and some have studied voice, but others have no background. The reason why KWMP is great is because it’s very diverse. It’s very family-oriented. We all love it. No one has to be a certain level; you just need to be on board and be excited to do it.
VR: You have the great Amanda Kind directing. How has it been working with her?
ED: There is no one else like her. I don’t think there is anyone around that could have done it without Amanda. This musical is very little talking – it’s more sung. Amanda, as you know, is an amazing singer. She’s very talented. I always praise how not only how she can teach, but that she can also lead by example. It’s assuring to know you have a leader who is dynamite. Amanda is someone who can direct and we can follow her. It’s truly an honour to work with her. She knows the show inside and out, and musical she gets it so well. She’s an actor-singer. She doesn’t just sing; she also can act. She’s really, really great.
VR: What makes the musical Rent so appealing to you?
ED: First of all is the music. Musically, it’s great. Our generation was kind of raised with it. It’s been around for over ten years! There are important messages that need to be told. It appeals to so many people!
VR: The story is very challenging. There are a lot of scary stereotypes and taboo topics. How are the actors holding up?
ED: Most of us, almost all of us, are adults. Everyone is really mature; we all know what we’re getting into it. Everyone is here on the same page, is mature about it. Everyone talks about how portraying the message. There are a lot of things – like people being sick in the show – which we have to be in the same mind-set about. If we’re unsure, we ask!
VR: What should the audience be prepared for?
It’s going to be amazing! On behalf of the show, everyone is really, really good. People should just prepare to have fun. It’s almost like a concert; the music keeps going and going and going! Everyone is on the same page with this – it’s a big collective project. I think we’ll be able to present this in a mature, but happy way. The music, coupled with Amanda’s work, is going to be awesome.
Next up to speak with was Sarrah Scott portraying hard-knock lesbian lawyer, Joanne Jefferson…
VR: How’s the tango going?!
SS: It is awesome! It’s nice to dance with somebody who can actually move!
VR: Joanne has some incredible singing parts in this production! What was it like for you, vocally, to come in to this role?
SS: It’s a little outside that what I typically sing, but it had pushed me so far and is really outside of my comfort zone. Amanda Kind knows how to get the notes out of you – I don’t think I could have done it without her.
VR: Joanne is really complex character. Tell me about getting inside her head.
SS: That’s a really good question. When I look at the character of Joanne, she kind of have has it all together. Her parents, her work, and her great support system. She has this one little weakness – Maureen! She loves to be in the spotlight and be in command and be in a world dominated by men, and yet, here comes this girl who is a performance artist who really challenges her to be vulnerable and learn to take a back seat. The layering of that character is so delicate, trying to find that balance. If she’s too bossy, you won’t believe that she’d take the back seat. But if she’s too docile, she’d never appear to be a successful lawyer. It’s about find ing that sweet spot to make the character believable.
VR: The storyline really dives into some challenging ideas. How was it for you to adapt to the story line?
SS: Considering that I’m heterosexual, and not suffering from AIDS it’s difficult! It’s so outside my element! We have to treat these stories with respect and dignity. This is not some flippant ‘let’s do a musical!’ We are portraying a story that has had a global impact. I’ve met a lot of people are suffering with AIDS, and I’m trying to pull from their experiences. It’s asking them what it’s like living with this disease? How does society treat you? I’m drawing from them, and what they’re living through.
VR: There are a lot of people who love this musical. What are you trying to bring to the stage to honour the fans of this production?
SS: Being true to the issues that are talked about and what the play revolves around and not treating it flippantly and I think trying not to do overdo it. It was funny coming into the first rehearsal, the music director was like, ‘we don’t need to go over the words, you all know this!’ We want people to come to the show and not be distracted.
VR: Which song was most the difficult for you?
SS: It’s funny, because Joanne has great moments like the tango and ‘Take Me or Leave Me’. But the most challenging number for me so far has been ‘We’re Okay’. It’s where she’s having three conversations at the same time! I feel like a ping pong ball! All the layering and figuring out who I’m talking to and keeping the conversations continuing, it has been fun – don’t get me wrong – but it’s been really challenging!
VR: I saw a gentlemen bring his 11-year-old daughter to RENT when I saw it previously. What are your thoughts on this?
SS: Well, the language is gratititous, but a lot of it is perfectly timed and placed. It is exactly how the character would feel in that moment. There are people making out and kissing on stage! There’s talk of sex – if you’re a ten or eleven year old that may not be appropriate!
VR: How’s the actor performing Angel doing?!
SS: He is doing amazing! My impression of Nathan before we started Rent was very different. He’s just come alive. He is working it! We have a walking/coaching session and he got it. He’ll make Tyra Banks proud!
By Jonathan Larson
April 26 – May 5
All Tickets $29