Friday 8 May 1998

Rent! gets its due in Ottawa
Free sneak peek at hit musical draws huge crowd

Janice Kennedy
The Ottawa Citizen

Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen / Karen Le Blanc, who stars as Joanne in the musical Rent!, kicks up a storm during a free concert yesterday.

Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen / Shawna McSheffery, 22, cheers on the cast of Rent! at the Rideau Centre.

Rent! fever hit Ottawa yesterday as kids started lining up at 8:30 in the morning for a free midday concert by the Toronto company of the splashy musical.

But -- who knew? -- Ottawa fever has also begun infecting the cast of Rent!

"We didn't expect this kind of reaction in Ottawa," said Tricia Young, a member of the Rent! ensemble. Hundreds of whistling, cheering, stomping young people, as well as a good number of older ones, filled the Eaton Court area of the Rideau Centre for the public concert, the first by the company.

"We're used to the kids in Toronto making a big fuss, 'cause we're right there in town. But we never thought the kids here would be the same."

"It was amazing," said Los Angeles native Damian Perkins, "Benny" in the Mirvish production of Jonathan Larson's award-winning musical, which begins its national tour this summer in Ottawa. "We can't wait to get back here."

"Amazing" was the word of choice for both sides of the stage. That was how Sean Canniff, 22, described the show he saw, an exuberant half-hour affair that featured several of the musical's most popular numbers, including the anthemic Seasons of Love. That brought the crowd to its feet with the sweet stratospheric solo notes of ensemble singer Divine Earth Essence.

Brash and vibrant and loud, the concert had its mostly youthful audience singing along with accelerating volume: "We're not gonna pay, we're not gonna pay, we're not gonna pay, last year's rent!"

Canniff and his sister Sandra, 24, both plan to get tickets for the show when it comes to Ottawa for previews at the end of July, formally opening Aug. 4.

So does Frederique Delapree, spotted singing along to all the songs, even those with the complex lyrics. A self-described diehard fan of the musical, which she has not yet seen, the 17-year-old McGill University student knows the score pretty much by heart, having listened to it all year long in residence, where it was the music of choice.

"I plan to go several times," she said. "I know it'll be expensive, but it's worth it."

The Rent! company made their Ottawa mini-debut yesterday with everyone except the leads, Roger (Luther Creek, who will be leaving the show soon) and Mimi (Saskia Garel, temporarily sidelined with chiropractic problems). Standing in impressively as Roger for One Song Glory was understudy Dean Balkwill -- the first member of the company to receive a hastily scribbled fan note afterward. As the group wolfed down a quick post-concert lunch before heading back to the airport and Toronto, Balkwill opened it and read it out.

"Good job, babe," he began, before being drowned out by cheers and wolf whistles from the other members of the young, energetic company. Chad Richardson, the young Newfoundland native who has made a stunning showbiz debut in the key role of Mark, also seemed pleased with a card in a delicate aqua envelope that he was handed after the show.

Tickets for the Ottawa run of Rent!, which runs until Aug. 9, go on sale Monday both at the NAC box office and through TicketMaster (755-1111). Radio station CHEZ-FM, an Ottawa sponsor of the tour, will broadcast live from the box office starting at 8 a.m.