October 25, 2014

Medina
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Medina theater group tackles love, poverty, AIDS with ‘Rent’ musical

The cast of “Rent” peforms the musical’s title song during a dress rehearsal Tuesday night at the Medina Performing Arts Center. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

The cast of “Rent” peforms the musical’s title song during a dress rehearsal Tuesday night at the Medina Performing Arts Center. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

A community theater group is shifting away from traditional musicals this year with a presentation of “Rent.”

CAMEO Medina’s production of the musical, with lyrics and music by Jonathan Larson, opens Friday at the Medina Performing Arts Center.

Set in the early 1990s in New York City, the musical tackles issues related to love, poverty and the outbreak of AIDS that touched many communities in the 1980s and 1990s.

Roger, played by Connor Stout, Angel, played by Ryan Routh, Mark, played by Danny DiMarino and Tom Collins, played by Austin Gantz, perform "Today 4 U" during a dress rehersal of "Rent" Tuesday night at the Medina Performing Arts Center. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

Roger, played by Connor Stout, Angel, played by Ryan Routh, Mark, played by Danny DiMarino and Tom Collins, played by Austin Gantz, perform “Today 4 U” during a dress rehersal of “Rent” Tuesday night at the Medina Performing Arts Center. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

“We felt like art is supposed to do more than entertain,” producer Mike Sferro said. “It’s supposed to make you think and make you feel.”

Sferro said while CAMEO has been proud to present classic musicals, such as “Oliver” and “Oklahoma,” he’s excited to stage a modern musical that ushered in a new era when it hit Broadway.

“It was one of the first rock musicals,” he said. “That genre has really taken off since then.”

“Rent,” which won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, ran on Broadway for more than 12 years, from 1996 to 2008.

Sferro and the directors said they’re aware the musical has adult themes and is intended for mature audiences, but they’re hoping to appeal to a younger generation of musical theatergoers and also to give those who like traditional musicals a chance to see something different.

“We had a bit of apprehension and discussion about the show and its setting here in a high school theater,” Sferro said.

He said four instances of the “F-word” were removed from the script in an attempt to give the show a PG-13 rating similar to that of the “Rent” film that hit theaters in 2005.

Director Maggie Steffen said while the musical deals with gay issues and AIDS, audiences will find a beautiful story of love and friendship within the script.

“It’s important to open people’s eyes to see things that seem so different and separate from them are not as different as they may think,” Steffen said. “Everyone can identify with the characters.”

The role of Roger Davis, a former junkie and musician, is played by Connor Stout, of Medina, who said taking on Roger’s rock-and-roll persona was a natural fit.

“This is my ninth show (with CAMEO) and the experience has been incredible,” Stout said. “Everyone has learned so much about each other.”

Eighty-five people are in the production’s cast and crew. More than 100 people auditioned for the 18 singing roles. Cast members came from all over Northeast Ohio to take part in the production, including Danny DiMarino, who plays Mark Cohen, a filmmaker, and Roger’s roommate.

DiMarino lives in Parma but has been making the drive to Medina daily to rehearse.

“Mark was one of my dream roles,” he said.

DiMarino said he’s excited to be part of a musical that has had an impact on so many people.

“I think ‘Rent’ has a really universal story about love and loss. That’s something everyone can relate to,” he said.

The show opens at 8 p.m. Friday. Others performances are 8 p.m. Saturday and July 24, 25 and 26 and 2 p.m. July 20. Tickets are $15 and available at Buehler’s stores and online at www.cameo-medina.org.

An additional sing-along performance has been added at 8 p.m. Wednesday. That performance is free, but donations will be accepted to benefit Alternative Paths, a behavioral health agency that provides crisis intervention, outpatient therapy and suicide prevention awareness to Medina County residents.

CAMEO also will host a “Free Rent” raffle to help benefit the nonprofit and future musical productions. The raffle winner will receive $1,500 to either pay the rent or mortgage or use for something fun, and the winner will receive an additional $500 to donate to a worthy charity of the individual’s choosing.

Tickets are $20 and available Saturday at the Medina Farmers Market on Public Square. Raffle tickets also can be requested via email at info@cameo-medina.org.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorengenson.