Chester students play bohemians in the age of AIDS

Curtain goes up tonight: Students have worked long hours preparing for their challenging roles

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  • The full cast

  • Samantha Murphy, Jonathan Walters, and Caroline Holton

  • Director Terita Redd

  • Jonathan Walters, Arianna Bermudez, Alexa Tierney, and Emma Flynn

  • Robert Rodriguiz, Reinaldo Martinez, and Nick Vazquez

  • Gabi Fiore, Samantha Murphy, Anya Quinn (lying down), Nick Vazquez, and Robert Rodriguez

  • Nick Vazquez

  • Robert Rodriguez

If you go

What: “Rent: School Edition,” the Chester Academy spring musical
When: 7 p.m. on Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22
Where: Chester Academy Auditorium, 64 Hambletonian Ave., Chester
How much: $10 general admission, $8 students and senior citizens, available at the door
Information: 469-2231 ext. 3301

By Ginny Privitar

— The play "Rent" has a special meaning for Terita Redd, a Broadway alumna and director of the spring musical to be performed at the Chester Academy this weekend.

"I thought it was a timeless play, and it was it was something that would be great for them to know and learn about," Redd said of her choice. "The music in the show is absolutely amazing. It talks about current problems, and it holds a place in my heart because it was the first show I did."

Redd, who teaches voice at the Hudson Valley Conservatory, was in the first national tour of "Rent." She also performed in “Hairspray,” “Caroline or Change,” and "Leap of Faith."

Based on Puccini’s opera “La Bohème," the updated play paints a raw and emotional portrait of the gritty bohemian world of New York City in the late 1980s, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

According to, "Rent" follows the ups and downs of a year in the life of a group of impoverished, artistic friends living in Manhattan’s East Village. Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, struggles to find his place in the world. His roommate Roger, an HIV-positive musician, wonders how he will leave his mark before he dies. Mimi and Angel look for true love as they face the harsh reality of life as HIV-positive young people.

Redd chose the high school version of the musical. She said students were putting in long rehearsal hours to bring the scenes to life.

Spirited roles with actors to matchThe student-actors reflected on the characters they play.

Nick Vazquez, a junior, plays Roger Davis.

"Roger is roommates with Mark and is dating Mimi off and on," he said. "And he writes music. I love Roger's songs. All his songs are really fun. And I love working with Anya (“Mimi”) because she's so good. I've never worked with Robert ("Mark"), and he's pretty cool too. So it's cool to get to work with new people and old people."

Caroline Holton, a senior, plays Angel.

“Everything about it is fun," she said of playing her character. "She's perky, she's glamorous, she's just flirtatious, and everything about her is just great. She has a lovely personality, and everybody loves it when she's around. So she kind of brings the light into a room."

Holton will be attending SUNY Fredonia in the fall and wants to pursue a career in the music industry.

Samantha Murphy, a senior, plays Maureen Johnson.

"I just think Maureen's great," said Samantha. "She's very spirited, and she really sticks with what she believes in, even if it's crazy. She has so much animated energy that I just love it."

Murphy will attend Florida State and plans to be a theater major.

Anya Quinn, in the ninth grade, plays Mimi Marquez.

“I love her energy and how's she's so high-spirited, and she just is very 'out there,'" said Anya.

In one scene, a limp Mimi is carried to a table.

“Mimi has AIDS, so she was just going through the final stages," Anya said. "And she was starting to die and then she came back to life."

Anya plans to continue in theater.

Jonathan Walters is in the eighth grade.

“I don’t have a set lead character, but I have many other different parts," he said. "One of the characters I enjoy is Mr. Jefferson because I like his part and what he sings. He's a very concerned dad. He's worried about his daughter Joanne.”

Walters said Jefferson likes to check up on his daughter because sometimes she doesn't call. He worries about when he’s going to see her.

Robert Rodriquez, a junior who portrays Mark Cohen, said his character has "a kind of this façade he has to put on for other people. He's so concerned with what other people are doing and where their lives are heading that he doesn't really have time to focus on his own. So when his friends around him all get AIDS and start dying, it weighs really hard on him, and he has to hide his emotions."

Chester, for its small size, takes on challenging plays that tackle serious social issues. Chester students have in recent years put on "12 Angry Jurors" and "Urinetown," among other thoughtful and absorbing productions.

"Rent: School Edition" will be performed at the Chester Academy Auditorium, 64 Hambletonian Ave., Chester, at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22.

Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for students and senior citizens, all available at the door.

For more information call 469-2231 ext. 3301

Photos by Ginny Privitar

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