Seeing the amazing cast of Quad City Music Guild’s “Rent” pour out their hearts and talents during the iconic “Seasons of Love” while playing from the orchestra pit is a gratifying feeling beyond words.
I have had the thrill of a lifetime serving as assistant music director and accompanist for this beautiful rock musical, which opens Friday, March 24 at the Prospect Park Auditorium, 1584 34th Ave., Moline. Kicking off Guild’s 75th season, Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” means so much to every person involved, for different reasons, including me.
Forty-three years after playing piano for my first musical (“Carousel” in high school in Milwaukee), and over 27 years after moving to the Quad Cities, this will finally be my Music Guild debut. I have long admired this community theater, as I am a huge fan of Broadway musicals and for many years have written about Guild shows for my full-time job as a journalist.
I have seen QC productions of “Rent” (I love its dazzlingly diverse score) at the former Harrison Hilltop and District theaters, as well as the 2005 movie that reunited many of the original Broadway cast. This is the largest local production of “Rent” (its first time at Music Guild) and it came about because of my connection with its passionate, thoughtful and compassionate director, Jeff Ashcraft.
A QC theater veteran, he was directing a wonderful production of the equally touching musical “The Secret Garden” at Guild in early 2020, for which I filled the same role, but I never got to practice in the pit. That ideal cast had the show stolen from them two weeks before opening night (March 13, 2020), when the Guild board was forced to cancel due to COVID.
I had lost my newspaper job the previous week, so the show loss was especially heartbreaking. Now, that giant hole in my heart has at last been filled.
Ashcraft generously asked me to return to play for “Rent,” this year’s spring show, which held auditions in mid-January and started rehearsals Feb. 8. At the first meeting of the cast and crew, the director asked people to respond to the question, “Why ‘Rent’?” I could tell from the start, that this is a special show for so many people.
Many in the cast said they’ve been waiting to do this show their whole lives; one said it was his generation’s “Hamilton”; one said it gave her the courage to come out; others have spoken of its inspiration and embodiment of true community.
One of my favorite parts of musical theater is that community. Since high school, each show bonds everyone involved so closely, and you all are united in the tremendous honor and excitement of telling a story as faithfully and powerfully as possible.
Katie Griswold — a 2020 Augustana grad and member of the enthusiastic ensemble (listen for her stupendous solos soar in “Seasons of Love”) — said in Music Guild’s occasional online “Meet Me” features that she first saw “Rent” at 15 and she felt like one meaning of its title (“rent” or being torn asunder).