For three performances only, a teen cast from Theatre Under the Stars' Humphreys School of Musical Theatre will present Rent, the much-adored modern adaptation of the opera La Bohème about the young and restless underclass trying to survive in New York City – with HIV and AIDS taking the place of the historic problems of drink and tuberculosis.
Fifteen-year-old Mallory Bechtel, a Humphreys student since she was seven years old, was old enough (and good enough) to be part of last year's Bring It On production by the school. Now she's playing Joanne Jefferson, a smart public interest lawyer, in Rent. The student at John Cooper School in The Woodlands says, “Rent has always been one of my favorite musicals,” and was more than happy to try out for a part.
“It's relevant, it's raw and it's real, and I think that's attractive to a lot of young audience members,” she says. “The story is about HIV/AIDS, and that could happen to anybody and that's why it's so relatable.”
Bechtel, who says she hopes to pursue a musical theater career in New York (“Live out that whole starving artist dream”), says her interest in theater spread to both her older and younger sisters. (But not their brother. “So three out of four.") Her commitment to four- to five-hour rehearsals, six days a week, is valiantly supported by her mother, who drives her back and forth for each rehearsal. Bechtel says she's counting on getting her own driver's license in November.
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She also is part of her school's theater program and in the past year was part of the cast in Little Shop of Horrors. “I like the idea of just becoming someone else and having a live audience perceiving this character that you're putting out there, and communicating the human experience is really fulfilling.”
Humphreys students work with professional actors and directors, which Bechtel says is “really geared toward making a good actor.” This includes being able to work well with others, she adds. “Every day we always sit in a circle and we all warm up together. One of the cast members leads us in these tribal chants, which are absolutely ridiculous. It gets us into this mind-set that we're in this together and the idea that we need to communicate to put on this production."
As for Rent? “The show just has a beautiful message about accepting others and seizing the day,” Bechtel says. “You never know what moment is going to be your last.”
Performances of Rent are scheduled for 7:30 Friday, September 18 and Saturday, September 19 and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, September 19 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com/rent. $24-$60.