Vancouver Sun -- September 9, 1998

Blockbuster musical Rent opens in Vancouver by DINA SUDLOW

Blockbuster musical Rent opens in Vancouver

VANCOUVER (CP) - They know intimately all the music, the actors and the choreography. And when the blockbuster musical Rent opens here Friday, the Rentheads will be rocking in the Vogue Theatreís front rows. Rentheads are the phenomenon that has grown since Rent burst onto Broadway in 1996.

They are mostly young fans who line up night after night - and often overnight - to grab cheap ($20) front-row seats traditionally offered at every Rent box office two hours before each performance.

For the cast, Rentheads are a gratifying but sometimes unnerving experience.

"You watch them in the audience and they sing all the lyrics, do the choreography in their seats, and bawl their heads off during the whole second act," says Saskia Garel, 28, who is reprising her Toronto lead role as Mimi.

"Doing the same thing every night can get a little tiresome but when you get that response from the Rentheads and theyíre making the whole show seem like a rock concert, you get that rush.

"You could be yawning backstage but once you get into it the music is so alive you canít bear to give a bad show."

Toronto songwriter Cary Shields, who plays Roger in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, says there are Toronto Rentheads, some of whom have seen the show more than a dozen times, who are saving to attend the Vancouver production.

One saw Rentís Toronto production 38 times, says Shields.
"A lot of them are making a (Vancouver) pilgrimage - itís insane," he says.
Heís seen the dark side of such devotion. During a U.S. tour, Shields was stalked by a fan.
"It was creepy. Itís weird when you have to be snuck out of side doors to avoid someone."
Adds Garel: "They know your every move. Itís on the Internet. They even know we went out for sushi the other night."
Rent was inspired by La Boheme, Pucciniís famed opera of life, love and death in and around an 1890s Parisian garret.
The rock opera shifts the story to a 1990s New York tenement district, peopled by HIV-positive musicians, junkies and drag queens.
Vibrant, savagely funny and tragic, itís a search for love in the age of AIDS.
After opening on Broadway, it won critical and audience acclaim. The Toronto production had eight months of sellouts in the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
Garel was an ensemble player and Mimi understudy in that company when she was offered the spotlight role.
A York University music graduate, she was half of Love and Sas, a Juno Award-winning R and B duo, before joining Rent.
Shields, 24, a musician and self-styled bohemian, "just got lucky.
"My mother wrote a letter to an agent suggesting I would be perfect for the role of Roger and signed my name. I think she just got tired of me sleeping on her couch."
It worked.
"Playing Roger is not like acting," says Shields. "Itís being myself on stage - just sitting around playing guitar and moping all day.
"All my life Iíve been writing songs about being an unsuccessful musician. How do I write a tragic love song about being a medium celebrity?"
Rent, the ground-breaking musical, opens a three-month run in Vancouverís 1,100-seat Vogue Theatre on Friday. SOME FACTS:
Opened: Off-Broadway, February 1996, moving to Broadway two months later.
Canadian debut: Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Dec. 7, 1997; Canadian producers, David and Ed Mirvish.
World View: Productions on Broadway, in London, England; Japan, Australia, Germany and Canada.
Kudos: Include the Pulitzer Prize for drama, Broadwayís Tony Award for Best Musical, New York criticsí awards.
Tragedy: Composer-librettist Jonathan Larsen, 35, died of aortic aneurism just before opening night.
© The Canadian Press, 1998 Rentheads: Fanatic fans who endure line-ups for cheap front-row seats; visit chatlines on the Internet.