‘RENT’ comes to UH-Hilo stage

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald The cast of RENT rehearses Tuesday evening at University of Hawaii at Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Danielle Kwami as Maureen Johnson, left, and Autumn Miyares-Thompson as Joanne Jefferson rehearse Tuesday for the upcoming production of “RENT.”

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Noam Akiba-Hajim as the man and Dayva Escobar as Sue rehearse Tuesday for the upcoming production of “RENT.”

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Autumn Miyares-Thompson as Joanne Jefferson rehearses Tuesday for the upcoming production of “RENT.”

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald From left, Christian Kapono Pa as Mark Cohen and Joshua Timmons as Roger Davis rehearse Tuesday for the upcoming production of “RENT.”

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald From left, Moses Lee as Angel Dumont Schunard and Kimo Apaka as Tom Collins rehearse Tuesday for the upcoming production of “RENT.”

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald The cast of “RENT” rehearses Tuesday evening at University of Hawaii at Hilo.

There are only 12,690 minutes to measure the time left before a Broadway favorite comes to life at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center.

“RENT” hits the stage at 7:30 p.m. April 5-6 and 12-13, and 2 p.m. April 7 and 14.

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Based on “La Boheme,” an opera by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, the modern musical is transposed to New York during the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s, where a group of young, struggling artists is dealing with a disease that ravages their community, said director Justina Mattos, an assistant professor of performing arts at UH-Hilo.

While the university typically does a spring musical, Mattos said this is the first time “RENT” is being performed.

The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical opened IN 1996 on Broadway and was made into a movie in 2005.

Mattos said she saw the play in the 1990s and was most struck by the cast, which was “just as diverse as you could imagine — and none of that mattered.”

“In the ‘90s, a lot of theater was about finding your identity,” she said. “In this play, it went beyond that. They were just humans of every shape and size and color, and none of that mattered because they were dealing with something much bigger and that’s what struck me about that. I left thinking ‘I want to direct this one day.’ It took a long time, but I’m doing it.”

Mattos said her department is excited about the production, but the play is a “huge undertaking.”

“The music’s complex, the staging is complex. It’s 43 songs and our musical director has had to rework some of the music because he has more instruments in his band than the original music was written for,” she said. “It’s a very complex show, and there are a lot of moving pieces to it, so it’s a challenge, but in a good way. People are very passionate about it. Everyone who is involved is super committed and wants to put their best art forward.”

Moses Lee, 22, plays Angel, a drag queen, in the production.

Lee, who does “drag as a side gig,” said, “for myself, as a drag performer, I really wanted to expand my boundaries and exposure and just challenge myself as a performer.”

For Lee, performing “RENT” is important, especially for those who weren’t alive to witness the 1990s AIDS crisis, including those in the LGBT community.

He said performing the show is exciting and nerve wracking.

“I know myself, as a performer, I just want to do the role justice. I know Hilo deserves to just soak up the show and really experience the story we have to tell.”

Mattos said audiences can expect “some really good music (and) heart-felt performances.”

However, because of the subject matter, the show is not appropriate for all ages.

This production is “keeping everything that is in the original script,” said Mattos, which includes swearing and “all the sexual suggestiveness of the different sexual orientations, fully embraced and celebrated. If that offends anybody, they might want to avoid this production.”

Advanced tickets are $20 general, $15 discount and $7 for UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College students and children. Tickets at the door are $5 more.

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Tickets can be purchased at the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center box office from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, by calling 932-7490 or online at artscenter.uhh.hawaii.edu.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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