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Thanks for the Memories Theatre presents 'Rent'

Thanks for the Memories Theatre Co. promises an intimate production of the hit rock musical "Rent," with eight members in the cast and four in the ensemble — compared to the original Broadway production's 25 or so members.

"A small company working in a small space is a little more like working in film," says Thanks for the Memories' artistic director Peter Wickliffe. "The drama is immediate and closer than it would be on a larger stage. The pacing of this show will constantly move as we transition from one scene to the next with no pauses. When the action continues without interruption, it tightens the production."

Thanks for the Memories' production — with prerecorded music — will be at 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 15-17, Monday, Jan. 19, and Friday and Saturday, Jan. 23-24, in the Oak Street Dance Studio, 1287 Oak St., Ashland. Matinees are set for 2 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 18 and 25. Tickets cost $12 and can be purchased online at tftmtheatre.com and at Paddington Station, 125 E. Main St. Concessions — coffee, hot chocolate, apple cider and cookies — will be available. 

"Rent" — with lyrics and music by Jonathan Larson — received critical acclaim during its 12-year run on Broadway and won a Tony Award for best musical and a Pulitzer for best drama. The story is more or less based on Giacomo Puccini's opera "La Boheme" and tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive in New York City's Alphabet City under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. While Puccini's work seems to romance death, Larson's score and lyrics seem to defy it.

"What makes 'Rent' so wonderful is not its hipness quotient, but its extraordinary spirit of hopeful defiance and humanity," wrote the The New York Times.

The musical has become a pop-culture phenom with songs that rock and a story that resonates with audiences of all ages. It has, however, received an R rating from Music Theatre International for language and adult themes.

The physical and emotional complications of HIV pervade the lives of Roger (Danny Walker), Mimi (Sabrina Hebert), Tom (Marcus Hardesty) and Angel (Zaq Wentworth). Maureen (Meagan Kirby) deals with her chronic infidelity to Joanne (Iris Goldie) through activism in various causes; Joanne wonders if the relationship is worth the trouble; Benny (Wickliffe) has sold out his Bohemian ideals for a hefty income as a real estate agent and is on the outs with his former friends; and Mark (Erny Rosales) is an aspiring filmmaker, who feels like an outsider to life in general, according to Wickliffe, who also directs.

"The main focus is on the romantic relationship between Roger and Mimi, and the way the young people deal with their dreams, loves, and conflicts provides the narrative thread. The ensemble — Payne Smith, Catherine Hansen, Carrie Ann Eve and Jonny Degner — plays multiple roles," Wickliffe says. "We are blessed with a cast of principal players who all have strong voices. Walker, Hebert, Hardesty and Rosales have the bulk of the singing."

Walker holds a bachelor's of fine arts with an emphasis in performance from Southern Oregon University, and he was an understudy for four shows in 2014 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Rosales hails from California State University at Chico and appeared in "Les Miserables" and "The Producers" at Camelot Theatre. Hardesty has acted in various One Eleven Theatre Company and Barnstormers production in Grants Pass. 

A couple of the musical numbers in the original production of "Rent" — "Christmas Bells" and "La Vie Boheme" — were trimmed by Thanks for the Memories, due to the constraints of a smaller ensemble and space.

"All of the highlights will be there," Wickliffe says. " 'One Song Glory," sung by Walker, tells of Roger's rise to fame as a successful rock star before falling into depression and drug addiction. 'Light My Candle' is one of those love-at-first-sight moments between Roger and Mimi, sung by Walker and Hebert, and 'I'll Cover You' is something that audiences really tune into. It's easily the most heartbreaking song of the show, sung by Hardesty.

"It's been fun to watch this group embrace the emotions of the play," Wickliffe says. "They've all gone to that vulnerable spot everyone is afraid of. It was the defining moment we needed to reach for this show because it is about real people. It was one of those moments that reminds me why I love theater."

Left to right: Sabrina Hebert, Danny Walker, Meagan Kirby, Zaq Wentworth, Peter Wickliffe and Erny Rosales appear in Thank for the Memories Theatre Company's production of the hit rock musical 'Rent.' Photo courtesy of Graham Lewis.