50th Anniversary: ‘RENT’ at Wildwood Summer Theatre by Rocky Nunzio

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“Forget regret or life is yours to miss” seems to be the motto of Wildwood Summer Theatre. Wildwood Summer Theatre is the D.C. area’s premiere all-youth run non-profit theatre company. Wildwood was founded in 1965 by a group of Walter Johnson High School students who wanted to extend their theatre experience to the summer. Their first production was the musical Bye Bye Birdie, one of the earliest and most successful stage musicals to incorporate rock music. This year Wildwood celebrates it’s 50th anniversary of success with the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning rock musical Rent.

Cast of 'Rent'. Photo by Wildwood Summer Theatre.
The cast of ‘Rent.’ Photo by Wildwood Summer Theatre.

Wildwood Summer Theatre is a curious company as everyone involved; whether it be the actors, the directors, the producer, or even the board of directors; is between the ages of 14 and 25. So from generation to generation the company shifts faces. Some of these faces have included Tony-nominated actor and Wildwood co-founder Jonathan Hadary, who just finished an extremely successful run of Fiddler on The Roof as Tevye at Arena Stage. Michael Mayer; famed director of Spring Awakening, American Idiot, and the current revival of Hedwig and The Angry Inch; had also worked with Wildwood as a youngster. Most notably for this production is Alumn Michael Lindsay, an actor and song-writer who was close friends with Rent creator Jonathan Larson.

Director Mason Catharini says that he is taking on this production “with a fresh take; one that will offer more than a few surprises for die-hard fans and newcomers alike.” And from what his cast members say it will be some production. “Rent is a continuously important show and, from what I’ve heard, it is completely different than shows the company has done in the past, which is important. “ says cast member London Docherty who will be portraying Mimi. “To me, Rent is about life in the face of disease and loss and the struggles that come with it, but it is about life and living and fighting through tragedies for what you love most. I think it is special because it presents life for what it is. Nothing is romanticized, but nothing is overdramatized, either. Life has tragedy, but it is not separate from the light that can be found. That is why I think it is so important that the show ends on a happy note (whoops trying to avoid spoilers): because it is possible to get through tragedy and there is always hope and light if you try to find it. And I think these characters, these people, do find it. The light may be dull and out of their sight at times, but it always comes back.”

“Maureen has forced me to become more comfortable with myself physically, as she is a very physically involved person–especially when it comes to performance and relationships. She is not afraid to show herself off, and developing that sort of confidence is a tough feat.” Cast member and 2-time Best Actress in a Musical Winner (DCMetroTheatreArts Best of Local Theatre) Camryn Shegogue, who will be portraying the part of Maureen Johnson, reflects on the rewarding character work: “In past productions, things have been much more fast-paced, and character work isn’t always the first priority. In this case, while we are expected to do our own character work outside of rehearsal, we are given so many opportunities to discuss and develop our characters with the director as well as our castmates.“ in a show that demands strong emotions Shegogue finds support in her fellow actors. “Working with Sanjana (Joanne) on the development of Maureen and Joanne’s relationship has been an immense help, as it has given me an insight into what their relationship would actually be like in reality, and the truth in Maureen’s seemingly flighty decisions.”

“This cast and show environment is incredibly unique in that it is so supportive and positive. Everyone is not only very kind but also very non-judgmental and helpful. I have been in a lot of theatre productions, but never one as positive as this one.” says Christopher Walkup. Walkup played The Narrator in Wildwood’s well received production of Into The Woods and he returns this year as Tom Collins. “While the situations are of course exaggerated for dramatic effect, the emotions that go into this production are real. We have spent hours talking about connection, disease, pain, and love, and these talks and technique-building activities will lead to an amazing production.”

Wildwood Summer Theatre’s an ensemble of young people that consists of high schooler students, college students, and even graduates to put on a show. Producer Mattia D’Affuso, who recently received a Master of Music degree, has this to say: “It’s almost unbelievable that a completely youth-run company has been able to successfully produce at least one full-scale musical production every summer for 50 years! It really shows the dedication and passion of young adults working in the theater world as well as their eagerness and desire to offer the community top-notch performances. Over the last 50 years, Wildwood has impacted countless community members both on stage and off stage.”

London Docherty (Mimi) and Thomas Foley (Roger) rehearse under the direction of Mason Catharini (Director). Photo by Wildwood Summer Theatre.
London Docherty (Mimi) and Thomas Foley (Roger) rehearse under the direction of Mason Catharini (Director). Photo by Wildwood Summer Theatre.

Rent features Zachary Norris, Thomas Foley, London Docherty, Camryn Shegogue, Sanjana Taskar, and Eric Teran making their Wildwood debut, as well as Adan Garcia and Christopher Walkup returning from last year’s production of Into the Woods. Ensemble members: Jordan Rodriguez, Robert Duncan, Devin Cain, Michael Mattocks, Peter Ely, Teddy Sullivan, Jyline Carranza, Maggie Gough, Lila Cooper, Sandra Bazubwabo, Mia Sterbini, Danielle Burman, Michelle Schrier, Olivia Kunkle, Michaila May.

This year’s artistic staff includes Mason Catharini (Director), Wesley Kramar (Technical Director), Katie Miller (Set Designer), Cameron Walkup (Lighting Designer), Paige Rammelkamp (Music Director), Matthew Dohm (Conductor), Sara Lawless (Choreographer), Caroline Tyson (Props Designer), Jacqueline Maranville (Hair and Makeup Designer), Lexie Werner & Amy Weaver (Sound Designers), and Hannah Lee (Costume Designer). Jenny Rubin (Stage Manager), and Paul Weiss (Production Manager).

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RENT plays on July 16, 17, 23, 24, and 25, 2015, at Albert Einstein High School- 11135 Newport Mill Road, in Kensington, MD. Purchase tickets here.