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With 'Rent,' local theater finally fulfills its promise

Photo ERIC HASERT eric.hasert@scripps.com

Kelsey Moore as Mimi, left, and Sam Haas as Roger, embrace in the song "I Should Tell You" in the play "Rent — School Edition" during a rehearsal at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Stuart on Tuesday.
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STUART — We've turned a significant page in community theater.

"Rent," the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, is a contemporary show, full of the thrilling highs and nightmarish lows of modern life, 180 degrees from the fantasyland parables of those tired old Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals from the 1940s and '50s. These are real people, who love, struggle, band together and pull apart as their harsh reality dictates.

Since its Off Broadway debut in 1996, Jonathan Larson's "Rent" has been justifiably praised for the deep-seated humanity of its storyline, and for the spine-tingling emotion of its music. This production does it justice, and then some.

Here's the kicker: The cast is made up of Treasure Coast kids, between the ages of 14 and 18.

These young performers clearly feel the relevance of Larson's story, and its boundless energy; the show positively pulsates from the moment the lights go up.

Kudos to Jennifer Paul Jones, who directed a vibrant and cohesive cast seen on stage— of any age. And to her husband, musical director Peter Jones — he's coaxed amazing vocal performances out of the talented teens.

The show's full name is "Rent — School Edition," and Starstruck — the Jones' student company — is its guinea pig. This version has never been produced before; because Starstruck won big at the recent Music Theatre International competition in Atlanta, they were awarded first production rights.

Members of Larson's family, who oversee the late composer's estate, have endorsed Starstruck, too.

Although "Rent" has moments of great joy and humor, much of the subject matter involves AIDS, homosexuality and drug use. Only the language has been toned down for the "School Edition."

But that doesn't; those things are depicted on TV every day. At its core, "Rent" is about unbreakable bonds of love and friendship. That's an important message these kids clearly understand and so successfully put across.

Not to knock Rodgers and Hammerstein, but what does "Surrey With the Fringe On Top" means to today's youngsters? With "Rent — School Edition," we finally have a show that pushes our young talents to the limit.

And, to be sure, they're up to the challenge.


What: 'Rent — School Edition'

Where: Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart

When: 2 and 7 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $23

Contact: (772) 286-7827

Online: lyrictheatre.com

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