District Fray chats with Ali Stroker, who plays Maureen, about what to expect when the iconic play comes to town.
Jonathan Larson’s masterpiece, “Rent,” has been wowing crowds around the world since it first premiered on Broadway more than 25 years ago. The musical won the Tony Award for Best Musical, a Pulitzer Prize for drama and was even turned into a hit movie, becoming a pop cultural phenomenon.
Steven Reineke serves as principal pops conductor, Sammi Cannold as the concert director and Sean O’Loughlin provided original orchestrations.
The concert will feature all of the musical’s songs, including “Seasons of Love,” “La Vie Bohème” and “Light My Candle” — sung by theatre vets Andrew Barth Feldman (Mark), Ali Stroker (Maureen), Lorna Courtney (Mimi), Alex Boniello (Roger), Jimmie Herrod (Angel), Myles Frost (Benny), Jordan Donica (Collins) and Awa Sal Secka (Joanne).
Stroker, who was the first actor in a wheelchair to take a bow on a Broadway stage in the 2015 revival of “Spring Awakening” and was the first performer in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award for playing Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!” in 2019, saw “Rent” for the first time when she was in middle school.
“I remember so much of it going over my head, but as I got more and more interested in musical theatre, I started listening to the soundtrack and began to understand it, and it felt so exciting to me,” she says. “You feel like you know the characters in the show, and they were so different than the sheltered life I was living in. I just fell in love with the music — you’re just transported from the beginning of the score.”
During the pandemic, Stroker had the opportunity to sing Maureen’s part of “Take Me or Leave Me” on Zoom for a benefit concert along with Tracie Thoms.
“It was amazing to get to sing it, and I hoped one day I could get to do this on the stage,” she says. “And here we are. Singing this music is a dream.”
Set in the East Village of New York City, “Rent” follows a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
The cast is only spending one week rehearsing with the NSO, so Stroker is doing a lot of homework to get ready for the part and is thrilled to be working with such an amazing cast. She’s especially looking forward to singing “Over the Moon.”
“I do have some fun ideas and I’m really excited to hear what [the director] is looking for as well,” she says. “There’s a fine line, because this is with an orchestra and it’s not staged, so you want it to make sense in the sequence of material. Everyone knows the song, but I want to live in this particular production.”
Stroker has performed in D.C. several times, and has done events with the disability department at the White House and the ADA, and is looking forward to spending a few days here.
“We’re going to be rehearsing a lot,” she says. “But I’m hoping to do some things in D.C., because it’s such a nice city.”
“Rent” will play at The Kennedy Center from July 26 – 28. Tickets start at $49 and can be purchased here.
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