‘Rent—In Concert’ is the newest offering from the Suncoast AIDS Theatre Project

By : Aaron Alper
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Sarasota – Rent is a time-honored musical amongst the LGBT community. It’s a story of a group of impoverished young artists living in Alphabet City in NYC while living under the nightmare of the initial onslaught of AIDS. It’s the perfect musical for the Suncoast AIDS Theatre Project to present Nov. 3 and 10 at Florida Studio Theatre.

Rather than being maudlin or prone of victimizing it’s gay characters (as many Hollywood movies are want to do) Rent imparted a message of hope amidst the decimation and that is probably the reason why it continues to be relevant more than 20 years after its debut.

And now, thanks to Brandon Florida’s own Suncoast AIDS Theatre Project, Rent is coming alive again in order to both enlighten and to bring help to those who need it. But this time, it’s presented as a concert rather than a play. Money raised will go directly to providing food for those living with AIDS.

It was Garry Bruel, the artistic director, who decided he wanted to do a “concert” version of the musical. Bruel then brought in Berry Ayers as a musical director, and things took off from there.

“This is the first time I am musically directing something for them,” Ayers said. “And I think this is the first time they’ve done anything like this. They usual do play readings; just straight plays. Maybe a song or two. I believe in what the organization does; it gives money to people with AIDS—helping them out in anyway shape or form. Rent, food, you name it. I have friends personally who are living with AIDS who have received checks from them and it’s a great organization.”

That powerful connection also spills over into what Rent is really about as well, both artistically and personally for the cast.

“I have a very personal relationship with the show,” Ayers said. “It was the second show I’d seen on Broadway. My age group, we grew up with AIDS, and when I was in college we were losing professionals, people were just starting to die. So Rent was cathartic for me because it dealt with people dying and how to live for the day. The motto of the show is, ‘no day like today.’ So now coming back to it as an adult, it’s been a very moving experience. There have been moments where we all just break down and cry thinking about some of the people we’ve lost.”

The timelessness of Rent is also palpable for the stars of the show, including Joey Panek, who plays the lead made famous by Anthony Rapp. Alongside his own personal connections to the piece, Panek seems very excited at the changes being made from taking Rent from musical to concert style.

“If you are familiar with the original cast recording, which most of us are,” Panek laughed. “They didn’t include all of the music, so neither are we and some of the things that wouldn’t translate well without staging having been cut, but the big numbers are in the show and you will hear all your favorites. ”

So what differentiates a concert from a musical? Panek helped clarify the difference.

“Garry has assembled a group of professionals who are all currently in other shows, working in other cities, so we are getting together on our days off. So since there isn’t time to stage a full production it’s a lot of actors singing from their sears, or coming downstage; it’s the music, the acting and the emotion but without sets and costumes.”

But most exciting for Panek is the chance to step into the lead character of Mark Cohen, the narrator.

“I have wanted to play this when I was in my 20s,” Panek explains. “He’s a filmmaker and he narrates the piece. It’s funny, my most recent career move has been making videos and producing, so there are things that I get about the character now that I wouldn’t have gotten 10 years ago. It’s amazing. When Garry asks you to do these readings, he takes care of you, he respects your time and everyone is so giving and understanding. It’s a great cause and out of all of the things I do this is the one that stands out.”

Rent—In Concert stars Panek, Chris Crawford, Danae DeShazer, Kristofer Geddie, Ricky Cona, Ariel Blue, Cranston Cumberbatch, Ashley Jai and Stephen Ray.

Florida Studio Theatre is at 1241 N. Palm Ave. in Sarasota. Tickets are $25 by calling 941-366-9000.
For details, visit FloridaStudioTheatre.org.

MORE INFO:
WHAT: Rent—In Concert
WHO: Suncoast AIDS Theatre Project
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday Nov. 3 and Monday, Nov. 10
WHERE: Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota
INFO: FloridaStudioTheatre.org

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