LONDON GROVE >> The actors and actresses among the students at Avon Grove Charter School took on a very grown up and difficult musical last week and nailed it.
“Rent” hit Broadway in 1996 after a short and successful run on Off-Broadway. It portrays the dark and emotionally complex lives of young adults living in the New York City’s East Village in the late 1980s. It was an era that some of the kids’ parents may have experienced or perhaps witnessed from the outside. Or knew from some friends.
It was heavy with drug dependence, homosexuality, cross dressing, drag queens, AIDs and, for that group, homelessness.
In the version that the young people presented, it was called “Rent School Edition,” but it did not hold back the adult themes.
Briefly, the musical is about a group of 20-something people, most of who are in various stages of AIDs, living in a building that they cannot afford to pay rent on.
As they consider what is important to them during what is probably close to their last years, they find meaning in music, art and love.
What they do not find satisfying is the suggestion by a wealth-obsessed real estate developer that they accept money to move out so he can build a new, modern and improved facility for his eventual profit.
The theme of the show was succinctly portrayed as the cast gathered in a line to sing the signature number, “The Seasons of Love.”
“Five-hundred twenty-five-thousand six-hundred minutes: How do you measure. ... measure a year?”
Minutes? Hours? Cups of coffee?
Love is how they measured it.
This Avon Grove Charter School cast appeared to play their parts seriously and intensely. It was hard to believe that a bunch of high school kids from the rural and economically prosperous suburbs of Philadelphia could fit so snugly and temporarily into the roles of urban young adults who were living sick and in poverty on the outside of mainstream society. But they did.
The show raised some interesting questions to ponder after the finale:
Do these kids who played their roles want to go up and visit the East Village?
Have they learned a lot about late 20th century history and the break-through counter culture that stood up to racism, heartlessness and war?
Have they asked how the actual generation of inhabitants of the Village evolved from the preceding years 30 years earlier, when the Village was a place for jazz, hippies and love beads?
And (this was hinted at in the show) did the characters in “Rent” ever want to go home to the obviously upper middle class parents who kept calling them and wishing them well? Why did they stay in the building?
The East Village of the late 1900s could draw you in like a siren. Even after a short visit you wanted to return and even be reminded afterward of the music, the food, the nightlife, the coffee houses and the feelings.
You have to believe that the young actors at the charter school not only entertained their audience, but they inevitably grew inside.