'Measure your life in love'

Fairfield Teen Theatre tackles 'Rent'

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It’s not easy to break into show business, participants in Fairfield Teen Theatre learn.

To prepare for his role as Angel, a warm-hearted, cross-dressing gay man in Rent, Joe Cardozo, 17, of Stratford, said he had to learn how to walk in five-inch heels. The Shelton High School graduate also has to imagine what it would be like to be dying of AIDS.

Performances for Rent are Friday and Saturdays, Aug. 2-3 and Aug. 9-10, at 8 p.m., with matinees Sundays, Aug. 4 and 11, at 2.

Rent will be the third production this summer sponsored by the Fairfield Parks & Recreation Department.

“My favorite song in Rent is ‘Will I?’ because it shows how powerfully the characters are affected by everything going on around them,” Joe said. “It’s not just the ones who have AIDS who are affected.”

Rent’s themes of gay bashing, the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, unemployment, romantic entanglements, and the importance of friendship remains relevant today, said Producer and Music Director Carole Jean Frawley.

Frawley has been involved with Fairfield Teen Theatre for 28 years. Asked to name her all-time favorite show, Frawley replied, “Every year is my favorite. I loved Tommy last year. I love Rent this year because the kids really make it come alive.”

Frawley’s son, Connor, plays Roger, one of the lead roles in Rent.

Connor, 18, said he’s grown up around the Fairfield Summer Theater’s stage.

“I’ve been doing this literally since I’ve been born,” Connor said.

This fall Connor will head to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Along with performing in musical theater, Connor is a bass player in a local band.

“This role in Rent is very different than the last part I played at Fairfield Warde High School,” Connor noted. He played Capt. Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

Although the Fairfield Teen Theatre is producing the “school edition” of Rent, which contains “tamed-down language,” Carole Jean Frawley said last summer’s rock opera Tommy paved the way for more “mature” subject matter.

“Also, Rent is a known entity,” she added. “People have seen the film, and the musical has been done by other teen theater groups. People know what they’re getting when they come to see it.”

Fairfield native Max Rein, 20, said his character Mark, a young filmmaker, is “really struggling with what to do with his life” in the show.

“He doesn’t have AIDS and he stands back and watches all of his friends disappear,” Max explained. “As his friends die, he fears he will be left alone.”

A student at Northwestern University, Max said the role is challenging because he hasn’t personally known anyone who has died of AIDS. To tackle the emotions needed to portray his character, though, Max draws upon feelings he had when a family member and a high school classmate died.

“We’re all coming into roles that are difficult to play because we’re so young and haven’t yet experienced these things in our lives,” Max said.

The musical score for Rent also challenges most of the principals in the show. Several songs require that the performers use the upper and lower parts of their vocal range.

“Jonathan Larson (the late creator of Rent) goes all out,” Max said, smiling. “It’s technically considered to be an opera.”

This is Steve Autore’s second time performing in Rent. Three years ago, he portrayed Roger in the Staples Players production in Westport. This season, he was cast as Tom Collins.

“It’s funny because I’m remembering a lot of Roger’s lines, even though it was a while ago,” Steve said.

A sophomore at Elon University, Steve plans to major in theater and cinema.

“It’s interesting to have the opportunity to play another role in this production,” he said.

Steve said he’s having a great time meeting new people, too.

“I think Rent is the type of show that brings people together,” Steve said. “Everyone can connect to it. Even though the characters are so different and you might not have experienced the same things they have, you can relate to their feelings.”

Like many performers in Rent, Steve has performed in previous Fairfield Teen Theatre productions.

Kayla Muldoon, 18, the show’s assistant director, said this is her fifth year working with the town’s summer theater. She plans to study musical theater this fall at Western Connecticut State University.

“I think it’s important to learn about everything,” Kayla said.

Some of her job duties this summer include helping the director “make decisions about blocking, do paperwork, take care of advertising and help out with costumes.”

The production is directed by Eli Newsom. Becca Pierpont is choreographer.

Tickets are $15, adults, and $12, students/seniors, and may be reserved by calling 203-372-9464.

Information is available at fairfieldteentheatre.org.

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