The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

October 22, 2013

Rock musical to open eyes

'Rent' tackles serious life issues

The Commercial-News

---- — If you’re expecting a Pollyanna, feel-good type of musical this weekend, think again.

Danville Light Opera will take a different approach with “Rent,” a rock musical that challenges the audience to face the issues in their community and to examine how they’re making the world a better place.

“This production, in part, is an incredible opportunity to present and break the silence on a lot of issues in Danville that are never talked about, and that feed on the silence,” director Jesse Pierce said. “We’re bringing those issues to the stage.”

The musical, with 24 cast members, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Dick Van Dyke Auditorium at Danville High School.

“Rent,” based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York City’s Lower East Side. They deal with issues such as HIV/AIDS, homelessness and addiction. It’s recommended for mature audiences.

The play, with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, won many awards and was made into a movie in 2005.

Pierce can relate to the characters in a way. At one time, he tried to make a living as an artist, but needed to take a job for the benefits. He grew up in DLO, but most of his directing has been on the cabaret circuit in Chicago and doing choreography for musicals. This is the first DLO show he’s done in a while.

“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “We have an incredible cast and creative team.”

During an “Inside Rent” event with the public last week, he said, one word kept emerging — community.

“We have become a community within the cast. We take care of each other,” he said. The cast members have shared their own experiences with the serious issues presented in the play, and have a safety net to talk about them.

Also, the play is about community.

“At the end of the day, it’s about what you do with your life while you’re here and there’s no day like today,” Pierce said.

In fact, the final line in the show is “no day but today.”

“We need to savor every minute and remember we have a responsibility to help others,” he said. “In the end, it’s about love. It’s about community. It’s about responsibility.”

The serious side of the play shouldn’t keep people away, however.

“It’s a lot like life,” Pierce said. “It has moments that are sheer joy. It has some that very painful.”

As for the music, it’s a fresh sound for DLO, he said, adding, “It’s something the audience will find fresh and invigorating and open new eyes, as well as bring a new generation into the theater.”

Marty Lindvahl, musical director, along with Belinda Smith, agreed that “Rent” is a different kind of musical for DLO.

“It’s not your typical ‘Oklahoma!’ or ‘Music Man,’” she said. “If you’re looking for a Pollyanna, feel-good message, you’re not going to get that.”

The lyrics are compelling, she said, and recommended people shut their eyes and listen to the words.

The music is beautiful, she said, and there are some ballads.

However, “Rent” is about the story line, she said, adding, “The story is pretty gritty. It’s about real life.”

Every musical, even Walt Disney stories, has a dark side, she said.

“Our goal is to inspire people to be the change they want to see. It has to be the individual who makes a difference,” Lindvahl said.

People say, “I’m just so blessed,” but what do they do in return? They need to give back through their time or talents, she said, asking, “How are you going to make a difference? How are you going to inspire and encourage people?”

Pierce said “Rent” presents serious issues, but, he added, “Ultimately, in the end, it’s about love. It’s about living.”

While the musical has many traditional elements, Pierce said, “This was an opportunity for DLO to follow my vision from the beginning — not just create a production, but to create a catalyst for social change.”

He hopes to see a new generation of theater-goers in the audience this weekend.

FYI Tickets are available at the Center Stage rehearsal hall at the Village Mall, at the door, or online at Prices are $19 for adults and $7 for students. Learn more about the show at