Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 20
Ambition explosionLompoc Civic Theatre presents its first musical since 2008
BY SHELLY CONE
Before Jonathan Larson created the hit RENT, he put together a musical autobiography that delves into the life decisions everyone faces in one way or another.
In the play, Larson is living a Bohemian lifestyle in a tiny apartment in early 1990s SoHo New York City. It’s a week before his 30th birthday, and Larson faces anxiety over his belief that if he doesn’t pen the Great American Musical by the time he’s 30, he’s a failure.
As if this pressure isn’t enough, his roommate and best friend finds success, while his girlfriend of two years threatens to leave him for a simpler and more traditional life by the sea.
Three years ago, director Todd Harper was in Sacramento watching a production of tick, tick … BOOM! when he connected with the show’s theme.
“I instantly fell in love with it,” he said. “I immediately said I have to do this at some point in my life. It’s just really fun. It’s a brilliant script and it’s hilarious.”
Getting to direct the show was something of a challenge, however. Harper brought it to the Lompoc Civic Theater Board several times, only to be turned down. The board didn’t think taking on such a musical would be feasible for the small community group. But Harper was determined and eventually got the green light.
He’ll direct the production, with musical direction by Rachel Mello and musical staging by Lompoc High School senior Riley Ranjo.
“After the incredibly successful Broadway run of RENT, followed by an equally successful major motion picture, most people in our culture today are at least aware of, if not deeply affected by that story and its themes,” Harper said.
He could definitely relate. He said that as he struggles with his own theatrical ambition, both regionally and locally, he faces the same anxiety—but so does everyone else in a sense.
“I think it forces people to look at their own lives and challenges and to reflect on their own lives and think about what they’ve done and haven’t done,” Harper said.
He said it also gives audiences awareness of Larson’s pre-RENT days, his post-college years waiting tables for minimum wage on the weekends and writing music with no promise of income the rest of the week. He was often faced with the choice of eating a meal, heating his apartment in the cold of winter, or taking a cab to see his girlfriend.
This part of Larson’s life is full of decisions that are often black and white, yes or no. So director Harper plays that up by carrying that into the set and costumes. Everything from Larson’s piano keys to the notes on the pages in front of him are black and white, but so are the colors of the set and, for a large part, the actors’ dress.
Metaphorically he’s asked to make so many decisions that are also black and white—like whether or not he wants to live in New York or move with his girlfriend to have a “normal” life. Interestingly, however, despite the starkness of his life, the script contains so much color and imagery that contrasts boldly with the scenes.
“It’s my idea of taking what’s in his mind and making it real for the audience,” Harper said.
Richard Lonsbury (seen previously in LCT’s Almost, Maine and Twelfth Night) stars as Larson. Lompoc High Drama teacher Sarah A. M. Barthel will play Larson’s girlfriend, Susan, and Connor Galvin (seen recently in Almost, Maine and Not on This Night) will play Larson’s roommate, Michael. Also appearing are Blake Brundy and Kaitlin Griffith.
Joining the creative team are Rachel Gamino, assistant director; Michael Sheck, lighting designer; and Amanda Jimenez, props designer. Harper is handling the scenic and sound design.
The production was originally produced as a rock monologue by Larson himself in September 1990. The script was later revised after Larson’s 1996 death, when award-winning playwright David Auburn adapted the one-man show into a three-actor musical, with orchestrations by Stephen Oremus. This new version of the play premiered off-Broadway at the Jane Street Theatre in May 2001, directed by Scott Schwartz, with Raul Esparza as Jon.
Arts Editor Shelly Cone working on a rock monologue about her life. It will probably feature a lot of obscure 80s songs. Contact her at email@example.com.
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