'Rent' takes the stage tonight, this weekend

It was business as usual for the actors and behind-the-scenes players who have put in the hard work to put on a great show this week at Trumbull High School. Despite the controversy, the debate and the campaign to save the show, the preparations for Rent weren’t so different from any of the school’s past musicals.

But what makes this production a bit unique is the work the students had to do outside of school, in order to bring the show to audiences this week.

Rent, a musical by Jonathan Larson, takes the stage this Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 and on Sunday at 2 at Trumbull High School. Back in November, Trumbull High Principal Marc Guarino canceled the show, citing concerns about some of the topics in the play. Students and community members joined forces, creating a great deal of media interest, and convincing the principal in December to allow the play to go on.

The students involved in this week’s production admit they feel a bit more pressure than usual, just because of all the attention.

“It does make it feel a lot more special,” senior Emily Ruchalski said of the fight to save the play. Emily is playing Maureen Johnson, one of the lead characters. “The build-up and passion — it means a lot to be able to perform this.”

Production assistant Ian Maloney said the cast and crew are very much a family, just like the friends in the play.

“We all feel very triumphant,” he said.

Students in the play said they researched the era where the musical takes place — New York City in the late 80s and early 90s. Learning about

the real-life devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic at that time, as well as poverty and gentrification was eye-opening.

“This actually happened,” Casey Walsh, who plays Joanne Jefferson, said of the material. “This is something real we can research, unlike some of fictional worlds in musicals we’ve done. Like in The Wiz, you can’t look up what it’s really like in Munchkinland.”

The actors said they found it challenging to play their characters, many who are dealing with issues far from the real lives of the actors. Characters have HIV, some are struggling with addiction, and some of the characters are struggling with romantic relationships — both heterosexual and homosexual.

“Roger is very complex,” Zac Gottschall said of his character. “He is struggling with his demons and trying to write a song before he dies.”

Zac said he painted his nails black and gets his hair straightened for rehearsals, in order to feel more like a punk rocker.

Ava Gallo, a sophomore who is playing Mimi, said her character has a lot of layers but she’s grateful of the opportunity to play her.

“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she said of the play.

Michael Ell, who plays Mark, said the table talks before rehearsals helped him better understand the play and his character.

“I see pieces of Mark in all the other characters,” he said.

Senior Larissa Mark, who spearheaded the campaign to get the play back, is now the stage manager and assistant director. Larissa said the play is about friendship and finding your place in the world — a message that especially resonates with the seniors.

“There was so much controversy but as soon as auditions and rehearsals began, we moved on,” Larissa said. “We want to put on the best musical possible.”

Director Jessica Spillane gave all the credit to the students, saying the high school production offers many leadership opportunities, from set design to performing.

“The community is going to love it,” Spillane said.

To purchase tickets, visit THSmusicals.com. A living museum and teaching/outreach display will be open to audiences in the lobby each night before the show. Several community outreach activities for the cast and crew are also planned, including food drives and fund-raising for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.