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Community Theatre opens new stage with Rent

By Jennifer Nixon

This article was published July 10, 2014 at 2:01 a.m.

community-theatre-of-little-rocks-rent-cast-includes-michael-goodbar-back-row-from-left-jeremiah-herman-brittany-sparkles-ryan-whitfield-jess-carson-kelsey-padill-and-front-row-angel-monroe-and-anthony-magee

Community Theatre of Little Rock’s Rent cast includes Michael Goodbar (back row from left), Jeremiah Herman, Brittany Sparkles, Ryan Whitfield, Jess Carson, Kelsey Padill and (front row) Angel Monroe and Anthony Magee.

Rent

7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through July 27, Studio Theatre, 328 W. Seventh St., Little Rock

Tickets: $18; $16 military, ages 65 and older, groups of 10 or more and students; $8 children 4-9; $1 discount with donation of gently used running shoes

(501) 410-2283

ctlr-act.org

Rent, the award-winning musical by the late Jonathan Larson, seemed like the perfect choice to end the Community Theatre of Little Rock's 58th season.

"We wanted to go out with a bang," says Chris Boggs, CTLR's president and publicity coordinator.

The intimate rock musical with a message, loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boheme, involves a group of friends in Manhattan's bohemian East Village at the height of the AIDS epidemic. It has been a phenomenon since it debuted in 1996, spawning a number of star performers, hit songs, a devoted following and a 2005 movie.

"[The cast and crew] are so pumped about it," Boggs says. "We have a stellar cast, a fantastic director. The musicians are fabulous. I can't say enough about the show."

The cast includes Michael Goodbar as Mark Cohen, Ryan Whitfield as Roger Davis and Brittany Sparkles as Mimi Marquez. Frank O. Butler and Matthew Tatus are director and music director, respectively.

Boggs stresses that those who are really anxious to see the show should not wait: "We highly recommend that you purchase your tickets for Rent online ahead of time," he says. "We're expecting to sell out every show." As there was for the original Broadway show, there will be a ticket lottery in which patrons who are feeling lucky can arrive an hour before curtain and enter a drawing for 10 discounted tickets (cash only).

Of course, those who do buy tickets need to make sure they go to the right place. For nearly seven years, CTLR called the Public Theatre on Center Street home. But earlier this year, the troupe decided it was time to move on. With many groups using the theater, scheduling CTLR productions was problematic.

Also, it was getting to the point that the cast for some productions had outgrown the space.

"CTLR has upped the ante on the type of shows that we're doing and the caliber and quality of each of our shows," Boggs says.

At the same time, a group of theater-minded people took over the old Balfour Printing Co. building on Seventh Street and remodeled it from what Boggs calls "an empty hole with a lot of spray paint on the walls" into the Studio Theatre and Lobby Bar.

The Studio Theatre's board of directors welcomed CTLR into the venue along with the Studio Theatre's troupe and the Precipice Theatre.

"It's a fantastic situation," Boggs says. "We needed a home, they had a home. We've been helping out as much as we can with blood, sweat and tears to get the theater up and running."

The bar isn't open yet and the stage, a work in progress, hosted its inaugural production last month, the Studio Theatre's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Rent was already on the schedule when the opportunity arose to move into the Studio.

"We could have done Rent in any facility," Boggs says. "We could have used a warehouse. The issue is whether our patrons would be willing to go to that location.

"This facility looks fantastic. We're going to use [it] to the fullest extent. We've got a balcony as well as a staircase; there's stuff onstage and on the side."

As with past productions, Rent's Wednesday Pocket Preview performance was a benefit -- in this case for the Arkansas AIDS Foundation -- and CTLR continues to collect gently used running shoes (Go! Running sends them to an overseas charity).

Of special note for "Rent-heads" is the silent auction through the run of the show. One of the cast members bought the bicycle that Anthony Rapp (as Marc Cohen) used in the Rent film; it will be up for bid, with the auction winner announced at the final performance.

"It's got all the credentials," Boggs says. "It is the real deal."

The troupe's new home will open it up to new types of shows, although Boggs says they still plan to stick to the CTLR's tradition of intimacy. The audience for the final performance on July 28 will get the first look at the 59th season, which Boggs says "is going to be fantastic, even better than this one."

Weekend on 07/10/2014

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