IF YOU GO
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8, 9, 10, 16 and 17; and 3 p.m. Nov. 11 and 18
Where: Ford Theater, inside Bliss Hall, on the YSU campus. Tickets are $10 ($5 for seniors, YSU faculty, staff and students). Call 330-941-3105 for reservations
Advisory: An audience advisory has been issued for coarse language and intense depictions of affection.
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Youngstown State University Theater’s production of “Rent” will get back to the popular rock musical’s roots.
A season highlight for the theater, the show will open a week from today for seven performances over two weekends.
“Rent” will be directed by Scott Irelan, who took over as chair of the department of theater and dance this summer. It will be Irelan’s first directorial effort at YSU Theater.
Irelan replaced Frank Castronovo, who began as a theater professor at the school in 1971 and served as department head from 2001 to 2012, when he retired.
In an interview in his Bliss Hall office, Irelan talked about his approach to “Rent.”
“It’s sort of a period piece ... like Shakespeare,” he said. “It’s in a specific place and time.”
The landmark musical looks in on a group of mostly starving artistic types living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s the early ’90s, and the spectre of AIDS, which at the time was a virtual death sentence, casts an ominous shadow.
“Rent” began as a product of the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994. It opened off-Broadway in 1996, the day after show creator Jonathan Larson — who wrote the book, music and lyrics — unexpectedly died of an undiagnosed aneurysm. Larson never saw the initial performance of his show, which quickly moved to Broadway where it gained critical acclaim and a slew of awards, including the Tony for Best Musical.
“Rent” ran for 12 years on Broadway — more than 5,100 performances — and lives on in touring productions.
In short, “Rent” became a beast of a show, adding lighting and effects as it grew in popularity.
But Irelan said YSU’s production will strive for the simple raw power of its early days, when it was a workshop production.
“[Playwright] Larson was writing about his friends,” said Irelan. “We’re trying to get back to that aesthetic.”
Based loosely on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” “Rent” follows a group of friends for a year, as they struggle to achieve their goals — and keep the lights on.
The group includes Mark, a filmmaker and the narrator of the story; his former girlfriend, Maureen, a performance artist; Maureen’s lover, Joanne, a public interest lawyer; Mark’s roommate Roger, a musician; Mimi, an exotic dancer, with whom Roger falls in love; Tom Collins, a computer genius; Collins’ lover, Angel, a street musician and drag queen; and Benny, a former member of the group who, after marrying into a wealthy family, has become their landlord.
The rock score, which will be performed by an ensemble of YSU music students, includes the signature song “Seasons of Love.”
The cast includes Paul Sauline, Patrick Niess, Eric Shonk, Joshua Green, Joseph Alvey, Carly Magnuson, Kylie Davis, Nikita Jones, Natalie Martzial, Anthony Humphrey, John Cruz, Joshua Fleming, Connor Bezeredi, Joseph Pascarella, Claire Blackledge, Kathie Steeb, Ashley Whited, Jordan Mastrangelo and Calvin Brown.
“Rent” was on the schedule before Irelan arrived at YSU, but the new department chair has plans to build on the vibrancy of the theater program as its 50th anniversary nears.
“We’re looking at ways to better serve the communities that we are near,” said Irelan.
Upcoming YSU Theater productions will target audiences in the African-American, Slavic and Jewish communities.
Penguin Playhouse, a new youth-theater program, will begin to make its presence known next summer. It will take theater into schools and libraries and offer a summer camp.
Irelan also would like to incorporate original scripts by faculty and students into the theater season and is considering adding a play-writing class.
To keep things fresh for audiences, he also is looking into using outside directors for future theatrical productions.
Irelan, a native of the Toledo area, has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bowling Green State University.
After graduating, he worked as a professional actor with a touring troupe for two years.
He then returned to Ohio, where he ran a community-service television channel in Defiance for a few years. When that industry failed to take off, he decided to get back into theater.
After earning a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University, he began teaching drama at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., and remained there for five years.
He accepted the YSU post in March and began his duties in July.