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|Goofy ‘Spamalot,’ moving ‘Rent’ resonate with calls to embrace individuality|
|by Jim Farmer|
|May 27, 2011 00:00|
Atlanta Lyric Theatre is preparing to open Jonathan Larson’s Tony-winning musical “Rent” with a heavily gay cast and crew.
The original “Rent” opened on Broadway in 1996, just after composer/playwright Larson’s untimely death from an aortic dissection, and ran an incredible 12 years. It’s been produced in Atlanta perhaps more than any other Broadway musical save for “Mamma Mia!” the last decade.
Director Alan Kilpatrick, who is gay, feels that “Rent” is that rare show that reaches audiences outside of typical theater patrons.
“I think it appeals to a broader spectrum than people would guess,” Kilpatrick says. “People have latched onto it. It has an infectious score.”
Among gay-inclusive musicals, he calls “Rent” essential.
“A lot of plays have one or two gay characters, maybe in support, but they are a major part of this storyline in multiple variations,” Kilpatrick says. “They are not stereotypical portrayals either. Because there is such an acceptance of gay relationships in ‘Rent,’ a lot of people feel it is their show.”
Adam Peyton is one of the gay actors in the production. He plays Angel, who he says is comfortable living as a man but comfortable dressing like a woman.
He feels the play accurately depicts gays and lesbians as well as HIV/AIDS, although he points out that “HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it was when the play opened.”
Like Kilpatrick, he thinks the musical holds up well today and is just as timely.
“Both Alan and I think ‘Rent’ is a modern day version of ‘Hair’ in that it speaks out against issues,” Peyton says.
Choreographer Ricardo Aponte, who is also gay, says that the trick for him is to stay faithful to the original but also to bring some individuality. For instance, in the lengthy number “La Vie Boheme,” which closes out the first act, he will stick to basics — “the things everyone expects to see” — but will add some personal touches.
Return to ‘Spamalot’
Opening next week is a return engagement of “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” complete with an openly gay actor — Steve McCoy — in the central role of King Arthur of Britain.
“Spamalot,” based on the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” won a Tony for Best Musical in 2005. Although McCoy admits that he runs into Python fans almost everywhere he goes with the musical, he does not feel it is mandatory to have a working knowledge of the Arthur legend or of the comedy troupe to appreciate the humor.
“It’s very funny and goofy, with huge song and dance numbers,” McCoy says. “It’s intellectual and silly, brilliantly written. It’s also a parody of musical theater.”
The show, which features two gay characters, has been a lightning rod for out performers, he acknowledges. Last year Richard Chamberlain was in the touring version and before that Clay Aiken was in the cast in Broadway.
McCoy admits there really isn’t a lot of variation in the way the role of Arthur can be played.
“You have to play it seriously or it won’t work – there is really only one way to do it,” he says. “You have to believe you are actually riding the horse.
He feels the message of “Spamalot” — “to go out and find what is important to you, your own grail, and don’t listen to what others say” — speaks to everyone, especially gay people.
Top photo: Steve McCoy, who is gay, plays King Arthur in ‘Spamalot’ at the Fox Theatre. (Publicity photo)
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