Southold High School Drama Club’s opening night production of “Rent” received glowing reviews from audience members Thursday evening.
“These kids are terrific,” said Heather Worthington of Southold. “It always amazes me what they are able to do on stage here. It’s incredible.”
Based on Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award-winning rock musical about a year in the life of a group of impoverished gay and straight young artists and musicians, some of whom have HIV/AIDS, Southold High School Drama Club is performing the “school edition” of the show, which tones down some of the script’s adult themes.
A measure of controversy surrounded the production earlier this year, when a pair of Southold residents contacted The Suffolk Times with concerns about the potential handling of gay characters in the play. One anonymous letter-writer said the play was inappropriate since it could “put students in the position to have to play gay/lesbian or drug addicted [characters.]”
One parent said her child believed the district was making changes that might offend gay students, including casting a girl as the drag queen Angel, traditionally played by a male actor.
In a letter printed on the show’s program, co-directors Casey Rooney and Jessica Elwood and musical director Kelli Baumann defended their decision to have junior Winter Wilcenski, who is female, play “Angel.”
“While some may not agree with this choice, we are confident that it is the right one for our production,” the letter reads. “Angel is still a drag queen, and in his script, Jonathan Larson uses both “he” and “she” in reference to the character. Ultimately, it is Angel’s generous, loving, accepting nature that is important to the story.”
On Thursday night, spectators appeared to agree.
“I thought it was just terrific,” Southold resident Jerry Case said of the show. “I wasn’t sure I was going to like it but I loved it.”
“It was absolutely spectacular,” said Diane Stack of Flanders. “The choreography, the singing — they were wonderful.”
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 21-22 and 2 p.m. on March 23 in the high school auditorium. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students and seniors and are on sale at Southold Free Library or at the door. For more information, call 631-765-5081.