Photos by Reiko Yanagi
The cast of "Rent" performs on stage at Secret Theatre in Long Island City.

BY TAMMY SCILEPPI

Viva la vie boheme!

In the mood for a great night out, Broadway-style, and a memorable musical theater experience?

Then don’t miss Secret Theatre’s dynamic presentation of “Rent” in Long Island City, where a rowdy bunch of artsy Bohemians are creating a ruckus through Oct. 6.

Experience this edgy, avant-garde take on the groundbreaking Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning Broadway show that celebrates friendship, love and community. All embraced by a feisty group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create, find their voices and somehow pay rent, in NYC’s East Village during the early 1990s — under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

Decades later, “Rent” still captivates diverse audiences with its universal message of hope.

“I’m so honored that this incredible cast of performers have given their time and hearts to our special production. I have loved helping them tell this beautiful story of how important life, friendship, and unconditional love are in this modern age,” said director Lauren Elder, who remembered falling in love with the musical when she first saw it in Los Angeles back in 1997.

The local success of “Rent” has surely done Executive Producer Richard Mazda proud as well. 

Even if you’ve experienced numerous incarnations of the famous retelling of Puccini’s classic opera, “La Boheme,” you’ll find The Secret Theatre’s unique version very refreshing and highly entertaining, raw and honest. The music is excellent; the depth of the vocals, powerful; the choreography, gravity-defying; and the acting, passionate and spot on. 

An Astoria couple who attended Saturday evening’s performance gave it a big thumbs up. Both agreed that it felt as if they were watching a Broadway show … despite the theater’s intimate setting and small-scale but interesting set, which brought Avenue B and the artists’ harsh reality to life. 

Elder, a longtime Long Island City resident, says she is first and foremost a Broadway performer (“Hair,” “Side Show”) and singer-songwriter (as well as a self-described world champion whistler). She told QNS that some of the actors were friends of hers that she met while performing, adding that the rest were “the amazing gems that stood out from the almost 500 submissions we had for the show,” and noted that each hailed from different parts of New York City and New Jersey.

“We have so many incredible performers in this city, and it’s wonderful to give them an opportunity to be in a professional production,” Elder said, “as well as giving the community a chance to see their performances at a more affordable price.”

So, how did this creative collaboration come about? 

“Richard and I have known each other for years, and when he had a last-minute opening in the schedule, he asked if I’d like to direct ‘Rent.’ I have loved the show for many years, and have some very personal connections with it, so I jumped at the opportunity,” Elder said. “I’ve been dipping my toes into directing over the past couple of years, but this is my first time directing a show on this scale.”

And her favorite thing about this production?

“I think it’s the love that the cast has for the show and each other,” she explained. “I get overwhelmed seeing their faces in ‘Seasons of Love,’ and actually jumped out of my seat when I felt the joy they exuded in ‘La Vie Boheme.’ It has been a truly beautiful experience working with all of them.”

Someone once remarked that “Rent” has transformed how a generation thinks and feels about musical theater. 

And its deeper meaning is still relevant today, as local artists’ ongoing fight to stay and create in the big city while struggling to pay increasingly higher rents continues. Sadly, many new age Bohemians have been forced out of their Queens homes and studios by developers whose gentrification goals are a double-edged sword.  In some ways, “Rent” is the story of Long Island City’s once-thriving creative community. 

If you catch the show, get ready to forget your troubles for a while. You’ll smile, laugh, sing along and even cry a little (but in a good way). And you’re bound to appreciate the heartfelt messages that songs like “No Day But Today” and “Measure Your Life In Love,” convey.

Secret Theatre is located at 44-02 23rd St. in Long Island City. Visit www.secrettheatre.showare.com/SecretRent or call  718-392-0722 for more information.

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