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Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred moments, five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred reasons to go see Rent the Musical at Showplace!

Art For Awareness, a local group with a mission to raise awareness of social issues through various art performances, has without question done so with this year’s production of Rent. Taking place in the East Village of New York City, Rent follows the lives of eight different characters all searching for love and living for today.

Struggling with poverty, addiction and HIV/AIDS, these characters take us through a year of their lives and expose the reality of these situations. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun and it’s not easy, but they are a community fighting for rights, fighting for life.

Written by Jonathan Larson and first performed on Broadway in 1996, Rent has become a musical sensation, shattering stigmas and stereotypes surrounding mental illness and HIV/AIDS. Having won four Tony Awards, this musical is not one easily reproduced and Art For Awareness has done so brilliantly.

It is certainly no secret that Peterborough has an incredibly talented theatre community, and Art for Awareness has brought so much of that talent all onto one stage with the result being indescribable. With each character perfectly cast, it’s as though these actors were born to play these roles.

The play begins with Mark Cohen, played flawlessly by Ryan Hancock, bringing the audience into the lives of the people of his world. Leading the audience through the story, Hancock captures the essence of “La Vie Boheme.”

We soon meet Roger Davis (Mark’s roommate), played by Carl Christensen, and Mimi Marquez, played by Shannon McCracken. As the passion between Roger and Mimi grows, the actors give a breathtaking, tear-inducing performance. While sharing the heartache and challenges they suffer with the audience, they pull us in as if there was no boarder between audience and stage.

McCracken owned the stage every time she was on it filling the theatre with her voice, especially during her performance of “Take Me Out”, where she revealed Mimi in all her wildness. It is from this song that McCracken shows the audience how Mimi grows from the beginning of the paly to the end.

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Benjamin Coffin III (Benny), the scummy landlord and old friend of Mark and Roger, is trying to evict the duo from their apartment. Played by Kelsey Powell, Benny represents the wealthy and quickly becomes the villain of the musical. Powell’s performance not only shows the “corporate” side of Benny, but also portrays the empathy that he has for his old, once very close, friends. Powell shows the audience that Benny doesn’t have to be the bad guy, but he certainly can and will be.

The romance between Roger and Mimi is not the only hot and heavy love on stage. Bronte Germain who plays Joanne Jefferson and Hannah Bailey who plays Maureen Johnson, work off each other in a way that is so powerful, so that there is no doubt of the love between Joanne and Maureen.

These two mighty vocalists expose something real, through trial and tribulations love is love is love is love, and when you’ve got it and it’s good, don’t let go. Bailey shines as Maureen and the entire audience was in agreement. Her solo performance of “Over The Moon” had the theatre filled with laughter, while showing the audience that there isn’t anything this woman can’t do.

Many of the characters in Rent are living with (not dying from) HIV/AIDS including Tom Collins, played by Dane Shumak and Angel Dumott Schunard, played by Andrew Root. These characters grow on stage, they struggle on stage, and both Shumak and Root bring to life a love that is pure and selfless.

Watching both actors sing “I’ll Cover You” is chilling and outstanding. Root fills the shoes, or rather knee-high leather boots, of Angel, and does so with incredible ease and grace, everything that Angel represents. Root’s performance comes close to stealing the show from tabletop dancing in high-heeled boots, to wonderful wigs and sequined dresses. Angel is the embodiment of love and life, which she spreads throughout the entire Rent community.

While the cast carries their characters fiercely from beginning to end, their extremely talented company carries them. Made up of talented dancers, actors and singers, the company of Rent represents the street life of the East Village. Watching these actors move naturally in and out of each other is mesmerizing. The whole production of Rent is made entirely of strong links with solos from Meg O’Sullivan, Jade Plumley, Carly Webb, Kalene Lupton and many more.

Rent, Art for Awareness, and everyone involved, has given Peterborough an incredible gift. This performance far exceeds any expectations I had and is without a doubt the best performance I have ever seen in Peterborough.

The actors in this show do not hold back and there is no question that every single person on stage and behind the scenes has put their entire heart and soul into this production.

Running from February 20-28 at Showplace, this is one show that you are not going to want to miss. Tickets are $26 or $21 for students.

Dealing with very real and very challenging subject matter, Art For Awareness, I believe has done just what they set out to do; they have got the conversation on HIV/AIDS, mental illness and addiction rolling. I believe it is not possible for people to leave this performance without talking and without having questions.