Collaboration brings first local production of 'Rent'

Robert McFletcher and Darion Murchison perform in RENT
Robert McFletcher and Darion Murchison perform in RENT
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ALLENDALE, Mich. - Newly released rights and a collaboration of community and university theater brings the first West Michigan production of RENT, one of the most beloved theatrical experiences of the 20th century.

Theatre at Grand Valley State University and Heritage Theatre Group will co-produce the rock musical, with guest director Manley Pope, who played the role of Roger in RENT's first national tour and on Broadway.

The production opens on November 13 as part of Grand Valley's 2009-10 Mainstage Season. Seven performances are scheduled for November 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, at 7:30 p.m., a special late night performance on November 20 at 11 p.m., and a November 15 matinee at 2 p.m. All performances will be at the Louis Armstrong Theatre on Grand Valley's Allendale Campus. Tickets, available at the LAT Box Office, are $6 student, $12 faculty/alumni/staff; $14 general public. Call the Box Office at (616) 331-2300 for more information.

"Pope is taking this production back to its roots as Jonathon Larson developed it for the New York Theatre Workshop," said Karen Libman, a professor in Grand Valley's School of Communication. She is the show's co-producer with Keith Oberfeld, Heritage Theatre Group's co-artistic director.

"This production is an electrifying yet raw production, downsized from the glitzy Broadway production, to recapture the original gritty story of the struggle for artistic expression amid a world ripe with poverty, homelessness and disease," said Libman.

Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Musical, RENT features a compelling and socially relevant storyline, multi-ethnic cast, and high energy music. It is particularly relevant as the selection for Grand Valley's annual "diversity" show.

In another first, the cast includes a good mix of well-known community theater actors and students from Grand Valley. Nicholas Huffman, who plays Benny, has just returned from New York City, where he performed as Andrew in the first stage version of THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Alicia Clark is a senior-year theatre major at Grand Valley and has performed in two major productions of the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival.

Likewise, the production crew draws from both.  Choreographer Lisa Catrett-Belrose, a faculty member from Grand Valley's Dance Program who has taught and choreographed nationally and internationally and been involved in musical theatre for the past 15 years, is also performing as Mimi. Music director Scott Bell has written original scripting and music for many area theater productions, including SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ, the recent Grand Award Winner for Best Direction of a Musical. See complete listing at end.

Pope divides his time between New York, Nashville and Los Angeles and a myriad of artistic projects as a singer, composer and director. He has performed on Broadway alongside Joey Fatone of N'Sync, toured America with Roger Daltrey of The Who, garnered critical acclaim for his own music, and has starred in films such Paramount's music industry satire, MARCI X, opposite Lisa Kudrow and Damon Wayans.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for our students and for the West Michigan community," said Libman.  Oberfield said, "We've been waiting for the right time and place to do RENT, and this is it."

For more info on Theatre at Grand Valley, visit www.gvsu.edu/theatre. For more information on this production media may contact Karen Libman at (616) 706-5432; libmank@gvsu.edu.

Cast Members
From GVSU:
Alicia Clark - Joanne Jefferson
Arianna Hendrix - Ensemble
Arielle Leverett - Ensemble
Darion Murchison - Angel Dumott Schunard
Kywanzia "Keke" Martin - Alexi Darling/ Ensemble
Lisa Catrett-Belrose - Mimi Marquez
Lynnae Meyers - Maureen Johnson
Ross Johnson - EnsembleRobert McFletcher - Tom Collins
Morgan Springsteen - Ensemble
Brynhild Weike - Ensemble
Ryan Cupp - Steve/ Ensemble

From Community Theater:
Christina Jang - Ensemble
Julianne Howe-Bouwens -
   "Seasons of Love" Soloist/ Bag Lady/ Mrs. Jefferson/ Ensemble
Lewis Richards - Mr. Jefferson/ Ensemble
Mark Jackson - Roger Davis
Nicholas Huffman - Benjamin "Benny" Coffin III
Rusty Gallas - Mark Cohen
Scott Wright - Gordon/Drug Dealer/Ensemble