Jonathan Larson’s ‘Rent’ Makes Late Manatee Players Debut

Like “Oklahoma!” “West Side Story”, “A Chorus Line” and “Hamilton”, “Rent” by Jonathan Larson revolutionized by changing the subject and sound of musical theatre.

Even though it’s been 26 years since “Rent” became a sensation at the off-Broadway New York Theater Workshop and became a flashpoint for young audiences at the time, it still has a lot to say even as times have changed. changed our focus to different social issues, said Danae DeShazer, who directs and choreographs a new production for the manatee players.

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“Like any good play, it still needs to be about today, even if some things feel dated,” she said. “It was groundbreaking and it still is with everything we love about acting. It’s about how to live your life, how to live a good life, about death and loss, about society and the creation of a community.

The musical, loosely based on the Puccini’s opera “La bohème” is about a group of artists, struggling to create and support themselves, afford housing, maneuver in their relationships and cope with the AIDS crisis. It became a legendary show when its creator died suddenly the day before the first off-Broadway preview.

Jonathan Larson, left, with director Michael Greif before the final dress rehearsal of Larson's breakthrough show

Larson’s death brought special attention to the musical, which garnered rave reviews and a transfer to Broadway, where it ran for 12 years.

DeShazer, perhaps best known as a performer at area theaters, is staging the production in the privacy of the Bradenton Kiwanis Studio Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, fitting its concept.

“I think what’s unique about ‘Rent’ is that it can be done in a large space and have a much more theatrical feel, but it also works in a small space like the theater studio” , she said.

Its cast will include 14 performers – eight principals and six ensemble members.

keep it simple

She describes it as a “pretty simple” production with scaffolding and folding chairs and the actors visible at all times. (Ralph Nurmela is designing the set, Patrick Bedell is the lighting designer, and Caren Brady is creating the costumes.)

“We’re breaking down the fourth wall between the audience and the actors and providing that energy to the story all the time,” she said. DeSshazer opts for an intimate community feeling. “I want the public to feel that they really saw something unique the night they joined us. That’s the wonderful thing about live theater.

Ariella Pizarro Johnston plays Mimi and Derek Luna is Roger in the Manatee Players production of

Its cast is led by Jason Ellis as filmmaker Mark, Derek Luna as his musician housemate, Roger, and Ariella Pizarro Johnston as exotic dancer Mimi. Eldred Brown plays Professor Collins, with Brian Craft as Angel, a drag queen and drummer. Vera Samuels plays performance artist Maureen opposite Madison Bradley as his lawyer girlfriend, Joanne.

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The set includes Caitlin Ellis, Karli Gunderson, Kathleen Kay, Ashley Figlow, Jason Moore and Michael DeMocko.

Katie Priest is the musical director, who has worked with the cast on songs such as “Seasons of Love”, “La Vie Boheme”, “Take Me or Leave Me”, “Light My Candle” and “One Song Glory”. The cast members will sing along to pre-recorded tracks. DeShazer said that with the size of the theater, it “wasn’t possible to have a live band in the space”.

Like most Kiwanis Studio Theater productions, “Rent” is part of the theater company’s Action through Acting program, which allows it to partner with community organizations that work on issues raised by stage performances. For “Rent”, information on CAN Community Healthwill be available to members of the public.

Even though it’s based on an opera, you don’t have to have heard or seen “La boheme” to appreciate “Rent”, although fans of Puccini’s work will recognize characters and situations parallel to opera, DeShazer said.

“What may be unique for the Bradenton-Sarasota area is that we have a world-class opera company here, so more people may be familiar with opera than in other places where” Rent “is played,” she said.


By Jonathan Larson. Directed and choreographed by Danae DeShazer. Operates from September 14 to October 14. 2 at the Kiwanis Studio Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave., West, Bradenton. 941-748-5875;

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