Set in the East Village of New York City, Rent School Edition is an inspiring musical about friends and musical/theatrical artists struggling with drug addiction, poverty and HIV/AIDS.

It is based loosely on the Broadway musical by Puccini’s La Boheme, with the Rent School Edition following a group of young adults for one year in the 1980s as they struggle to survive and beat the odds, which were stacked against them daily.

Drama Director Julee Caspers Agar said the students have been asking to perform this musical for years, but the cast and directors quickly learned that the RENT musical has a very challenging score, even at the high school level. She said the level of emotion needed for the performance was very intense.

The musical is based on the physical and emotional complications of suffering with AIDS, which complicates the lives of Roger, Mimi, Tom and Angel. A number of cast members played duel roles from main characters to the supporting cast.

During the Thursday morning performance at Westby Area High School for students and staff, Roger Davis was played by Vougard Latoja; Mimi Marquez (Sharice Elbert); Tom Collins (Cody Russell); and Angel Dumott Schunard (Jack Call). Other key roles were that of actress Maureen Johnson, who deals with her chronic infidelity and was played by Amy Teadt. Her life partner, Joanne Jefferson, was played by Eva Gajewski. Benjamin Coffin III (Luke Charles) played a former friend who sells out his freindships for money and aspiring filmmaker Mark Cohen (Peter Holdorf) struggled with life’s insecurities.

The main characters lives cross paths numerous times throughout the 2 hour, 30 minute performance.

Roger (Latoja) and Mark (Holdorf) characters struggled to pay the rent and had to deal with an uncompassionate landlord (Charles). They tried to be there for their friends, even though they were broke and barely getting by themselves.

Mark (Holdorf) was hoping to make it in film industry, but didn’t want to sell his soul make it happen which left him broke and unable to pay the rent.

Coffin (Charles) sold out for money and lived to make his friends life miserable. Both actors did a good job of connecting with the audience through eye contact and spoke with clarity.

Maureen (Teadt) was dating Mark (Holdorf), but broke up after she fell in love with Joanne (Gajewski). It was a bitter breakup between Mark and Maureen, but bittersweet in that the two women (Maureen and Joanne) realized after months of on-and-off again disagreements that true love requires give and take from both parties involved if they hope to make their new relationship work.

Roger (Latoja) was focused on writing and performing a hit song. That path to stardom was interrupted when he fell in love with Mimi (Elbert) who was addicted to drugs and believed in living every moment like it was their last. The couple struggled with trust issues, which eventually tore them apart. With the help of their friends they found their way back to each other late in the show. The vocal strength of Latoja and Elbert made you feel the pain of the characters they played in the show. Unfortunately their vocal performances were interrupted at times by cordless microphones disconnect, but despite the periodic interruptions their powerful voices still shined through.

Collins (Russell) was mugged on the streets of new York, but soon found comfort and love in the arms of Angel (Jack Call). Angel, a street musician and crossdresser that had enough passion in his sole to comfort his friends when the world was bringing them down. Angel suffered from AIDS and died in Collins arms later in the show. The death of their friend was a life changing moment for many. Call’s role was a very difficult one for any high school student to perform, but he did it with confidence. Russell has a strong presence on stage and did a good job of engaging the audience.

The Rent School Edition was filled with exuberance and energy from the supporting cast whose vocals were strong and movements on stage were graceful and added definition to each scene. The entire cast grew more confident in their performances as the musical progressed and the final scene where Mimi (Elbert) appeared to die in Roger’s arms (Latoja) as he sang the song (Your Eyes) to her brought a tear to more than one eye in the audience.

The touching moment took a riveting twist when Mimi (Elbert) returned from her near death experience after seeing the light, entering a tunnel, but being stopped short of Heaven’s gate by Angel (Call) who died earlier in the musical. Angel (Call) sent Mimi (Elbert) back to earth for a second chance at life and love.

Kudos to everyone involved. You made the school and community proud. The cast, pit band, directors and production crews did a beautiful job with a very sensitive screen play. Hopefully everyone involved will make the most of all the “Seasons of Love” they live and enjoy every one of the “565,600” minutes in a year. We all need to live life like there is “No Day, but Today”.

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