Three of the lead roles in Western Arts Theatre Inc.’s production of Rent, are played by huge devotees of the ground-breaking 90s musical. Rent captivated audiences with its rock-pop sound and bohemian characters, determined to thrive as artists, lovers and survivors, living under the shadow of poverty and HIV/AIDS. Brian Dixon, Jayne Barker and Felicia Fragapane spoke to Theatre People about their respective exciting opportunities to be a part of a show they adore so much.

Brian Dixon, who plays the central role of Mark, says Rent was one of the first musicals that he ‘fell completely in love with’. ‘The music overwhelmed me with emotions,’ he tells Theatre People. ‘Ever since, I’ve been singing along with my friends, imagining myself playing almost every role.’

‘There are parallels on personality and vocals between me and Mark. I love Mark’s kindness – he is always there for his friends. From his comedic encounter with Joanne, to his constant devotion to Maureen, to frustration and unending friendship with Roger, Mark’s always on an emotional rollercoaster.’ Mr Dixon researched his role by watching/listening to the Broadway versions of the show, but he did try to avoid taking in too many incarnations, as he ‘wanted to create and evolve his own version of the character.’

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Mr Dixon cites the biggest challenge in playing Mark lies in the overwhelming love so many have for Rent – a show that is nothing short of iconic for his generation. ‘I need to give the audience what they expect, while leaving my own “mark,”’ he laughs.

‘With this production, my fellow actors have helped to push my performing limits – vocally and throughout every scene. Their range of dynamics has inspired me to aim for deeper scenes and tighter harmonies, helping to take the audience on a brilliant journey.’

Mr Dixon’s current stint in Rent is a dream role for him. ‘I am incredibly thankful to be cast with such a brilliant group of people, and could not imagine doing this role without them.’

Jayne Barker, who plays Maureen in this production of Rent, has been a fully-fledged ‘Rent-head’ ever since she heard “Seasons of Love” on Triple J in high school. ‘One listen and I was hooked!’ she says.

‘I have the massive privilege of performing a role made famous by the amazing Idina Menzel,’ Ms Barker enthuses. ‘Singing “Take Me or Leave Me” on stage with the super-talented Joanne (Samantha Hammersley) is a dream come true. Also, getting to have a raucous, crazy party in the song, “La Vie Boheme” has to be one of the funnest things I’ve ever done on stage. I can’t wait to share that scene with audiences!’

Ms Barker can relate to Maureen’s propensity for distributing flyers and asking people to come along to her shows. ‘That feels very much like me in real life – always promoting gigs!’

‘Anna, our director, has been incredible and we have been aiming to create an honest and authentic feel to this show that represents Jonathan Larson’s original vision.  I’m really happy with my interpretation of Maureen. We have the greatest show family. I cannot believe how well everyone gets along. The talent of the cast is one thing, but there’s also a lot of love between us all. I hope that comes across on stage.’

‘My dream musical to be in is Rent! Hooray for achieving life goals. “No day but today!” She says, quoting the uplifting message from Rent.

Felicia Fragapane plays the sassy Mimi Marquez in the show. Ms Fragapane has been performing in community theatre shows since 2006, and has been singing for longer. ‘I’ve been a fan of Rent since I first saw it,’ she says. ‘While I probably wasn’t (at) “Rent-head” status back then, I definitely am now. I’ve been reading books, watching documentaries; just trying to get a hold of different facets of Rent.’

‘I feel the biggest challenge of Mimi is finding her vulnerability. It’s giving her an extra layer – past the sassiness, sexiness and boldness – and trying to understand why she makes the decisions she does.’

‘It’s been rewarding to see Mimi develop as a character. Actually, watching everyone’s characters develop has been great. I feel the cast (both principals and ensemble) have really spent a lot of time trying to find what makes their characters tick!’

Theatre People couldn’t resist asking Ms Fragapane if it was the chance to be ‘clad only in bubble wrap while performing a lawn chair-handcuff dance to the sounds of iced tea being stirred’ that attracted her to the role. ‘Yes!’ she laughs. ‘It was definitely the bubble wrap!’

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Ms Fragapane says she and Mimi do have things in common. ‘While I have brought a bit of myself into Mimi, she has also rubbed off on me! I’ve definitely got more sass than I used to!’ she laughs.

‘There is a really good vibe between everyone. I find the cast have always been warm and supportive, and then when crew and band came in they were also welcomed into the “family”.

‘As cliché as it sounds, I have learned over the course of this show that there really is “No Day But Today”. We need to live for the moment, make the most of every day and appreciate those we love. Life really is too short.’
Rent will be playing at the Union House Theatre at the University of Melbourne from July 2-5, and Theatre People wish Western Arts Theatre nothing but positivity for their first full length musical undertaking. Tickets can be booked at this link, and WAT can be followed on Facebook here.

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