By Taras Berezowsky
With hundreds upon hundreds of successful weeks on Broadway and off, several Tony Awards, a feature film version, and infinitely popular music and lyrics, it’s hard to believe that any production of the musical “Rent” would have trouble – well – renting production space anywhere in the country.
But that’s exactly the trouble that Dione Carrico ran into with the city of Taylor this past winter.
“The city just pulled the plug,” she says of the production originally slated to be staged by the Taylor Youth Theater.
Staring down adversity, Carrico, the show’s director, donated her own funds to secure the rights to produce it this summer. She also enlisted the Michigan AIDS Coalition to help with fundraising and promotion. “Rent,” with an ensemble cast of 23 teen actors, will take place inside the J. L. Hudson Auditorium at the State Fairgrounds in Detroit on July 24 and 25; at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti on July 31, Aug. 1, 7 and 8; and at the Trenton Village Theatre on Aug. 14 and 15.
Evidently, after initially signing off on the performance rights for “Rent,” Taylor city officials retroactively withdrew permission for the youth theater to present the show.
According to Carrico, the city had access to the “clean” school edition of the show that omits adult language, same-sex kissing and suggestive lyrics before approving the group’s request for the rights, which are held by Music Theatre International. The theater is city-funded, and therefore subject to the whim of the parks and recreation department, which ostensibly had doubts about the show’s “appropriateness.”
“I think it was an election year, and I guess they didn’t want the controversy,” Carrico says. “But in my view, I don’t think there’s anything negative about the themes of love, respect and acceptance.”
Carrico co-founded the Taylor Youth Theater in 2002, and has been directing plays for the program with her husband over the past seven years. This past winter, her teen actors overwhelmingly endorsed “Rent” when faced with the choice of what to produce next. From the start, Carrico’s been determined to follow through with the musical at all costs. Before solidifying the three current performance spaces, she fielded an offer to produce the show in the city of Ferndale.
“I was impressed when I heard that these kids were so motivated and excited to put on this timely play,” said Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey, who is also the CEO of the Michigan AIDS Coalition. “I’ve worked for 21 years in HIV education across this state, and to find a group like these young people who understand how critical these issues are gives me great hope.”
Carrico’s commitment to the cause mirrors that of the teens. Seven years ago, the youth program started with about 30 kids; this year, a couple hundred make up the ranks. Carrico has a passion for directing young actors that unmistakably comes through in her voice.
“So many came into the auditions already knowing the songs by heart,” she glows. “The kids are just phenomenal – I can’t even tell you.”
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Rent: The School Edition’
: J.L. Hudson Auditorium, Michigan State Fairgrounds, Detroit (7:30 p.m. July 24-25); Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St., Ypsilanti (7:30 p.m. July 31, Aug. 1, 7-8); and Trenton Village Theater, 2447 W. Jefferson Ave., Trenton (7:30 p.m. Aug. 14-15). $10. 313-303-5269