From The Big Stage To The Little Theatre


Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are three things rarely talked about at St. John’s

University. Yet, these were the controversial issues discussed in The Chappell Players Theatre Group

production of Jonathan Larson’s rock opera, RENT.

Directed by Samantha Tella, the show follows a group of unique individuals squatting in New York’s Alphabet City. From the opening moments of the production, it’s clear that the Chappell Players were sure to live up to the famed likes of Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin, and Idina Menzel, some of the talented actors who played Larson’s characters in the beloved film.

Mark, performed by Chris Engler, opens up the show with his quirky and slightly awkward monologue which quickly makes him an endearing character and takes the audience back to the end of the millennium.

Mark narrates the story of his friends as they face death, AIDS, drug abuse, and the constant fear of losing their home to Benny’s (played by Aaron Poon) corporate power while simultaneously, and most importantly, losing their dignity.

Along the journey, the audience meets the rest of the intriguing cast who each find a way to relate with the audience as they come to terms with the hardships that surround them.

Director Samantha Tella said, “It really helps that we were in New York City doing this show. It was easy for them [the cast] to do some research and dive into the passion and hunger.”

Tella was also proud of her cast for finding their inner “activist, anarchist passion” despite facing hectic schedules and dreaded mid-terms. She praised the cast’s quick acceptance of the show’s message, which they found to be both personally and socially relevant.

It was the personal investment of the cast that made the show possible in a short amount of time. The RENT cast and crew had about a month to put on a full-scale musical, which included a full set and a double cast.

Some elements of the production that fell flat were the content of the risqué script and Mimi’s (played by both Amora Laucella and Melanie Hernandez) flashy outfit. Instead, it came when the nine-piece ensemble effortlessly blended in with the principle cast, creating an outstanding and unusually powerful presence onstage. Suddenly, the Little Theatre felt a lot more like New York City.

“This is an ensemble driven show,” said senior Justin Phillips, who played Tom Collins, a homosexual man who comes to love a male transvestite.

According to Phillips, each cast member is required to put in 10 hours of service to other areas of

production, such as set building and advertising. The involvement paid off as seen by the strong audience response. Audience members enjoyed clapping along with the cast as they performed the Broadway favorite, “Seasons of Love.”

Despite the shortage of time and a few technical glitches during the production, the Chappell Players Theatre Group bravely and successfully created a world of actions, consequences and hardship for their audience, both onstage and off. Its cast proved to be both talented and inspiring, leaving the audience with messages of hope and perseverance.

As Tella put it, “RENTcan change a life and convey a message.”

Other cast members included Dylan Frisina, Marquise Harris, Shakira Abney-Wisdom, Lonnita Belk, Ivana Williams, Ann Marie Mascioli, Katie Morgan, Yrena Jia, Katherine L’Esperance, Molly Dies, Tsebya Derry, Nathan McBrady, Kurt Cruz, Christian Schwoyer, and Ben Kistinger.