One timeless love story two different shows. Kings Langley based theatre group Vivo d'Arte are once again putting on an immersive promenade production but this time there's a two-for-one element involved.
The ensemble will be alternating between two shows at Frogmore Paper Mill – Rent a '90s musical and the opera La Boheme which inspired it. Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme provided the basis for Jonathan Larson’s Rent.
La Boheme is originally set in 19th century Paris, where two artists – Rodolfo, a poet and Marcello, a painter – live in squalor, mischievously avoiding their landlord, Benoit. Their relationship reaches an emotional climax due to jealousy and when they finally reunite, it is not the happily ever after they expected.
Rent is set in 1990s New York City and explores an artistic community in the wake of the AIDS crisis. Former junkie and songwriter Roger confines himself to his freezing loft apartment following the suicide of his girlfriend, only later to meet a young girl, whom he becomes attracted to.
Rent's musical director Erika Gundesen sees the similarity in the plots.
She says: “It is interesting to see how the two stories intertwine, as Rent is based heavily on La Boheme, but with a different historical context and musical styles. Placing them side by side gives us a fascinating insight into both operatic and musical theatre.
“Jonathan Larson, the composer, was essentially bringing a familiar love story to a modern audience, with the intention of addressing a serious social issue present at the time.”
Erika is originally from Calgary, Canada and is currently on a fellowship with the Guildhall Opera Department as an accompanist and assistant conductor.
The 26-year-old, who now lives in southwest London, says she prefers the original Pulitzer and Tony Award winning Broadway version of Rent to the 2005 film that followed: “It feels more complete. In order to sell the film version to a wider audience, decisions are often made to cut certain numbers, censor some of the more explicit material and focus on the lead characters rather than any of the ensemble.
“The stage version is also almost completely sung-through, while the film has more spoken scenes. The film is wonderful and very entertaining, I just feel that the stage version is much closer to Larson’s original vision.
“I should probably add that Rent is definitely a 16 plus show.”
Erika admits that she was familiar with both the opera and musical as she has worked in both genres, as a pianist and as a musical director, and that their version of Rent, closely mirrors the characters.
But the biggest challenge Vivo d'Arte have faced with putting on Rent is creating an effective theatre space in an unusual setting.
“We’ve built the set literally on and around the Victorian mill,” she tells me.
“It is also difficult to rehearse a promenade piece without the audience actually present – and audience member may not always act the way we expect them to, so we have to stay flexible and expect the unexpected.”
Saying that, Erika adds: “It’s been particularly fun to watch Angel (Andrew McGowan) learn to perform the show in six-inch heels, as he is already quite tall without them.
“It is also pretty amusing to have both casts rehearsing side-by-by; for instance, the other day we were rehearsing a noisy rave-style dance sequence while outside we could clearly hear a beautiful soprano aria from La Boheme.”
Frogmore Paper Mill, Fourdrinier Way, Hemel Hempstead, August 28 to September 3. Details: vivodarte.co.uk