Nelson production of 'Rent' opens Thursday at the Capitol

The struggles of bohemian artists in New York City will come alive at the Capitol Theatre next weekend as a local production of the rock musical Rent takes the stage for three nights, March 13 to 15.

The 1996 Broadway musical is a modern retelling of the Italian opera La bohème and follows a group of friends living in the gritty Alphabet City neighbourhood of New York City circa 1989, trying to find life and creative expression amongst poverty, homophobia, addiction, gentrification, and the deadly threat of HIV/AIDS.

The show is the inaugural production of Elephant Mountain Music Theatre, a Nelson company started by Kevin Armstrong and his wife Laura Johnson, along with Julie Jonson-Murray. After the same team put together the epic production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2012, they were looking for something smaller but just as hard hitting. Rent — with its heavy theme, rousing musical score, and cast of just 14 people — was an ideal choice.

"This show is full of characters who may not make the same choices we would in life, but they're making exactly the choices that they want to make, and living their lives the way they see fit and not by anybody else's standard," explained Armstong who plays the HIV-positive computer genius Tom Collins. "Rent is really about celebrating life and having a good time, despite adversity."

Armstrong first saw Rent on Broadway in 2000 and was totally blown away by the music and the energy of the show.

"I loved the fact it was a musical geared towards younger people of my generation, unlike a My Fair Lady or Oklahoma!," he said. "It was something really different — a breath of fresh air."

Written by Jonathan Larson, the musical has won Tony and Pulitzer awards. It is one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history, but sadly its author never lived to see its success. Larson died unexpectedly the morning of Rent's first preview performance Off Broadway.

Armstrong said that fact adds to the poignancy of the show.

"The major message in Rent is 'no day but today' — you never know what's going to happen, you might get stricken by cancer or AIDS or get hit by a car," he said. "The split second before your life ends, are you going to feel like you did everything you wanted to?"

Starring alongside Armstrong will be Michael Calladine, playing a love-struck filmmaker; Josh Murray, as a musician and former junkie; Julie Johnson-Murray, a performance artist; Dana Rosenberg, a drag queen; Claire Hately, an erotic dancer; Rob Andrew, a landlord; and Andii Kriss, a lawyer.

Rent runs nightly at the Capitol Theatre from March 13 to 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $23 for adults or $18 for students and seniors. Buy online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca or charge by phone 250-352-6363.

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