NEWS BLOG (WSAU) When “Hair” made its Broadway debut in 1968, it made people uncomfortable. The mink coat and necktie crowd that bought most of the tickets was most likely disturbed and frightened by bohemians, hippies, and draft dodgers. They were fun to watch on stage, but a little scary outside the theater.
Thirty years later, although it’s politically incorrect to say it, audiences felt much the same way about “Rent.” It hit Broadway in the middle of the Wall Street boom and the excesses of the 90s. It was also the time people were beginning to talk about AIDS, although it was still a socially unacceptable disease that afflicted people who did socially unacceptable things. “Rent” made the yuppies in their business suits spend a few hours contemplating the kinds of people they tried to avoid.
Time dulls our ability to be shocked. Today “Hair” is nostalgia because the sixties are quaint. And when “Rent” closed in New York in 2008, most of us knew someone in real life who looked a lot like these characters. Women with tattoos, men with strange piercing, young people who’s relationships and sexual preferences shift from week to week, and people leading hand-to-mouth lives in the name of non-conformity are almost passé. Today New Yorkers sit comfortably next to these people on the bus… some might even get the OK from the co-op board if they say the right things.
But “Rent” in Wausau is different than “Rent” in New York. It’s a daring choice for Wausau Community Theater. Many people in Central Wisconsin don’t know these people. Some will be uncomfortable. I could almost imagine audience members with their arms crossed, sitting in silent judgment, thinking “their lives wouldn’t be such a mess if they’d just be more responsible.” You might be tempted to hold a Dr. Laura counseling session in your mind where Mimi or Rodger or Angel or Maureen are invited to sit on the couch. You might be tempted to tell them they’d have better lives if they were more like you.
But this is the kind of play Wausau Community Theater does well. The play is carried by eight central characters. The story unfolds through Mark's eyes, and Andrew Stepan is a solid singer and a good actor. He carries himself well as a half-observer half-participant in the characters' relationships. Courtney Groves as Mimi is a fabulous dancer, although I wasn't sold on her singing until "Seasons of Love" in Act Two. Candace Marie Buck as Joanne is a talented actress, and her harmonies in her duets were memorable. Taylor Keding, who's just out of high school, is the most talented cast member. His acting showed passion without ever appearing mawkish, and he was a powerful singer who stood out amongst a solid ensamble.
You may not know any singing nuns, but you met one in “The Sound of Music”. Dancing Russian-Jew milkmen are probably not in your circle of friends, but you still enjoyed “Fiddler On The Roof”. But “Rent” will introduce you to people you may not know… and may not want to know. How willing you are to let these people into your consciousness, to consider them and their lives, will determine how much you enjoy this night at the theater. I understand. When my aunt took me to see Rent, we didn’t take the subway home after the show. She called a cab instead. “Do you know what kinds of people ride the subway at night?” We had just met some of them on stage.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
There are three performances of Wausau Community Theater's Rent remaining at the Grand Theater: Saturday at 2p and 7:30p, and Sunday at 2p. Mature themes, not recommended for children.