The Fort Myers Theater performs the rock musical “Rent”

The year is 1997. An angsty, morbid 17-year-old Latino sits with his high school sweetheart in the back row of an old theater on West 41st At New York. They had come to see a rock opera by the name of “Rent” not because the musical was set on New York’s Lower East Side or had an incredibly diverse cast.

What drew Lin-Manuel Miranda to the Dutch that day was the fact that the musical’s brilliant composer, Jonathan Larson, had tragically died at the age of 35 the very morning ‘Rent’ debuted. on Broadway.

“It was the show that made me want to write a musical,” Miranda later recalled.

Just two years later, Miranda wrote the first draft of “In the Heights”.

Lisa Clark plays public interest lawyer Joanne Jefferson in the musical for Fort Myers Theater. According to her, the influence of Jonathan Larson on Lin-Manuel Miranda is unmistakable.

Lisa Clark during a July 23 rehearsal for the Fort Myers Theater production of “Rent.” Clark plays Joanne Jefferson

“If you’ve ever seen ‘Hamilton’ or anything by Lin Manuel Miranda, he draws a lot of inspiration from Jonathan Larson with his music,” Clark said.

“A lot of the dialogue is timed and rhythmic… This word is supposed to be an eighth note and this word is supposed to be a quarter note and you’re supposed to say it in that exact rhythm because you’re going back and forth. You sing, then you talk, then you sing, then you talk. So it has to be in that rhythm because it fits the music that way. It’s quite complex actually.

The driving finale of the first act, “La Vie Boheme”, is representative of the rhythm, syncopation and timing of which Clark speaks. The number illustrates something else that “Rent”, “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” have in common.

“It’s a rock opera,” Clark points out. “So almost everything is sung. There is hardly any dialogue in it.

Due to the lack of the super high notes that characterized previous shows at the Fort Myers Theater, such as “Addams Family” and “A Chorus Line”, Clark rightly refers to the sound of the musical as belt-style music. . And yet, its score includes incredible harmonies and improbable duets, like “Take Me or Leave Me”, which Clark sings with Brian Grantwho plays his love interest Maureen Johnson.

For local actor and popular pianist, David Rodeplaying the series’ resident musician, Roger Davis, is a dream come true.

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Dave Rode during a July 23 rehearsal for the Fort Myers Theater production of “Rent.” Rode plays Roger Davis.

“It’s music I’ve been waiting to sing for over 20 years,” Rode said.

“It’s heavy rock. It’s rock opera. If you’ve heard “Jesus Christ Superstar”, it’s that kind of music all the way. It’s strong. It’s emotional. There is so much emotion in every song. It covers the whole range. So as a musician, it’s great. You get sweet and tender moments. You get to have some loud rock moments. You get great harmonies. As a musician, it’s a musician’s dream to sing in this show, that’s for sure.

The one song that excites and tickles the entire cast is their most iconic number, “Seasons of Love,” as Lisa Clark explains.

“It’s 525,600 minutes,” Clark said. “Almost everyone has heard only one verse. If you’re an audience member and you hear the first chords of the song, everyone goes, ‘Oh, I’ve got that song now!’ And if you listen to the lyrics, it’s all about what makes up your time in a year.

five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, do you measure a year?

In the daylight, in the sunsets
In the midnights, in the cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in life?

And love?
And love?
And love?
measure in love

seasons of love
seasons of love

Wedler Lordeus is an understudy for two different characters in the musical. He did not previously know “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson before auditioning for the show. But he’s a fan now.

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Actor Wedler Lordeus during a July 23 rehearsal for the Fort Myers Theater production of ‘Rent’.

“Jonathan Larson did a really good job on this fucking musical,” enthused Lordeus. ” It’s awesome. It’s literally brilliant and I would say how creative he is, especially in terms of the arrangement and the little mini interior monologues with the music he has.

So is Spencer Barneywho plays budding documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen.

“There are a few songs on the show that people who have never watched a musical will know. Just like “Hamilton”, [Rent] was in its monumental era. It got the word out about what real people do and the lives of some of the undesirables, the people we really don’t like to think about too much,” Barney said.

“Everything is absolutely amazingly written. It’s honestly a shame that Jonathan Larson passed away so quickly, but we’ve got a few shows from him and they’re amazing.

“Rent” follows a year in the life of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create on New York’s Lower East Side under the shadow of the AIDS epidemic. The characters are real. Their struggles and problems are real.

Dave Rode observes that the overall theme of the musical is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.

“Even though he’s 25, it’s still stuff we’re dealing with now,” Rode said. “There is no day but today. You never know when you won’t be there. So if you have something to say, say it. And if you have love, you have to give it. “We’re running out of time” is the theme of the musical. You have to do what you have to do when you have to do it.

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Cast members rehearse for the Fort Myers Theater production of the musical ‘Rent’.

No less than Lin-Manuel Miranda took note of the poignant irony of Larson’s passing on the day of the show’s off-Broadway premiere. “Rent” not only launched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s career as a playwright and propelled him to become a Broadway staple. It inspired him to realize “tick, tick… BOOM!”, a 2021 Netflix film about Jonathan Larson and his work. There can’t be a better recommendation than this for you to go see this show.

Lease plays at the Fort Myers Theater August 6-21. Go here for game dates and times.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida, visit Tom Hall’s website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.

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