BWW Interviews: Musical Director Rick Rea on Utah Rep's RENT
Utah Repertory Theater Company is gearing up to present the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical RENT from September 20 to October 6 at downtown Salt Lake City's The Project.
Musical director Rick Rea spoke with BroadwayWorld about the personal and universal impact of the groundbreaking show and its iconic music.
1. How did you become involved with Utah Rep's production of RENT?
Johnny Hebda, the Artistic Director of RENT had gotten in touch with me in January when I was directing and music directing NEXT TO NORMAL at the Ziegfeld Theater. He, Cooper Howell (director of RENT), and I were able to connect at closing night for that production. We stayed in touch, really liked each other's work, and one thing led to another, and I was honored to receive the invitation to participate as the show's music director.
2. What do you like about RENT?
To me, RENT, in spite of all its imperfections, has a proprietary flavor that no show has had since, and certainly was in no show before it. There is a feeling when you watch RENT, a certain emotional experience that is distinctly RENT. It happens in moments where pain is expressed in beautiful ways that are universal to everyone in the audience, but sometimes it happens when you are simply watching two guys complain about how unfair it is that they can't afford to pay the rent because they refuse to "sell out" and get a job to support themselves.
Even in the moments where I (and others) disagree with characters in RENT, the writing and the music has a way of "selling you." That is what the best writing does. Sometimes it's simply the right orchestration. Or a simple lyric from Jonathan Larson stated in an off-beat, brilliant way no one could have ever said it.
RENT constantly makes its story palatable and relatable. As you watch it, you find yourself rooting for the characters and their struggles in the moments you agree with their viewpoint, but also in the moments you objectively don't. That's beautiful writing. RENT has a defined, totally unique world from anything else in all the arts. As unique as the world of Rocky Horror Picture Show, Willy Wonka, or Lord of the Rings. That's why it will live forever.
3. How does RENT's music inform the characterizations and plot?
The music is the characterizations and plot as far as I'm concerned. People who have listened to the score and never seen the show understand the show. If you didn't speak English and sat in the audience...you'd basically get it. The music has so many ways of expressing what is happening under the character's skin. A drum beat is an anxiety attack. An easy 6/8 bass line is a release of serotonin from the character's mentally escaping to Santa Fe. The best musicals tell the story more through music than lyric. RENT has brilliant lyrics, but its first language is music.
4. What is your favorite song in the show and why?
My favorite songs to listen to are "Santa Fe" and "You'll See Boys," because the groove and melody are so ear-delicious. But my absolute favorite song is "Without You." Want to talk about the power of simple lyrics? Mimi lays there naming all the things that will continue to happen in the world if she lost him.
"The crowds roar, the days soar, the babies cry, without you.
The moon glows, the river flows, but I die, without you."
The song is just a list. Then that last line "but I die, without you." The oh so simple lyrics of that song are better than most of the more complex songs that writers churn out. And when you add the sweeping music to elevate those words...musical theatre just doesn't get better than that.
5. Tell me about the live band and what it adds to the experience.
Our band is incredible. Fortunately for rehearsals, it is a piano heavy show, but the sound when we bring our phenomenal guitar, bass, and drum players to the mix. That's when it's really RENT. It's just one of those crucial pieces to the show. RENT without a rock band would be like Dorothy opening her door to a black and white Oz. It's the pulse and the soul of the show.
6. What has it been like working with the singers in the cast?
Just doing RENT in Utah, you expect have some of the best singers in the state show up, and that's exactly what we got. They are beautiful human beings and you can see it with them both as a group and when working with them one-on-one. They work hard, they have incredible voices, and it is a joy and an honor to make music with them.