“Rent,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical that changed the face of Broadway when it premiered more than a quarter century ago, will be part of the Stratford Festival’s 2023 season, the Star has learned.
The new production of Jonathan Larson’s magnum opus, slated to play the 1,800-seat Festival Theatre, will arguably be one of the largest since the musical closed on Broadway in 2008, after a 12-year run.
“Spamalot” is set to be the second musical of the 2023 season. The musical comedy adaptation of the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is a holdover from the Festival’s 2020 season, which was canceled due to the pandemic.
“We are planning to produce ‘Rent’ and ‘Spamalot.’ However, we are still negotiating with the rights holders and the creative teams,” Ann Swerdfager, the festival’s publicity director, confirmed in a statement to the Star.
“Rent,” loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera “La Bohème,” follows a group of young bohemians as they navigate life in New York City’s East Village during the AIDS crisis.
The musical’s off-Broadway premiere in 1996 was overshadowed by Larson’s sudden death at the age of 35. But the critically acclaimed production transferred to Broadway later that year, and would go on to radically alter the American musical art form, ushering a new generation of Audiences and paving the way for bold works like “Next to Normal” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.”
The Stratford Festival production will be directed by Broadway veteran Thom Allison, a source close to the production told the Star. The 2023 production is a homecoming of sorts for Allison, who was a member of the original Canadian company of “Rent” that premiered in Toronto in 1997, before touring to Ottawa and Vancouver. He also starred in a 2010 regional production of the musical in Winnipeg.
“I’m thrilled to learn that Stratford will produce ‘Rent’ in 2023,” said Jeffrey Seller, the musical’s original Broadway producer. (Seller is not involved with this production.)
“When I was a drama teacher at Camp Tamarack in Michigan in the early ’80s, I took my campers to Stratford every summer to see their ingenious productions of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas — ‘The Gondoliers,’ ‘The Mikado,’ and ‘ HMS Pinafore.’ I vividly remember all of them.”
“Spamalot,” which tells the story of King Arthur’s journey to find the Holy Grail, premiered on Broadway in 2005 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Award-winning director, writer, lyricist and actor Lezlie Wade was set to helm the Stratford Festival production in 2020 at the Avon Theatre.
“Spamalot” is the second musical from the canceled pandemic season that has since been picked up in a later season. “Chicago,” also announced for 2020, is currently running at the festival. The third musical, “Here’s What It Takes,” with music by former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page, has yet to be produced.
Donna Feore, the festival’s star director and choreographer of musicals, who oversaw a string of hits including “Guys and Dolls,” “The Rocky Horror Show” and this season’s “Chicago,” is not returning to the Festival next year to pursue major projects in the US, as reported by the Star. Next year will mark the first season since 2011 — not including the pandemic — Feore has not directed a show at the festival.
The festival is set to officially announce the full lineup of productions for its 71st season in the coming weeks. The current season runs through October.
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