Andy Señor, Jr. brings mastery of “Rent” to Aspen on Friday

Sarah Girgis
The Aspen Times
Caleb Quezon, right, is Angel Schunard and Chabely Ponce, left, is Mimi Marquez in Theatre Aspen's production of Rent.
Theatre Aspen/Courtesy photo

For director and performer Andy Señor Jr., his 20 plus-years of involvement with the Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Rent” is not just a career path, it’s a spiritual calling.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘You’re still doing Rent?’ And of course, I work on other projects, but mastering something is powerful and important,” he said. “It takes a lifetime to have a deep mastery of something, not just ‘Oh, I worked on that’ and then I continue forward. That’s not mastery. To continue to work with these characters and this score, in truth, never gets old.”

He brings that experience to Theatre Aspen’s third mainstage production of the season and first-ever presentation of “Rent,” which opens at the Hurst Theatre on Friday.

“Rent,” was written by composer, lyricist and playwright Jonathan Larson. 

He labored and workshopped the rock musical for about seven years in New York City. At 35, he suffered an aortic aneurysm. He died two days before his play’s January 1996 off-Broadway premiere.

“Jonathan disrupted what was happening, and he wrote from a disruption in his life. He wrote from a very truthful place.” said Señor. “And then his unfortunate passing became part of the mythology of ‘Rent,’ and he became synonymous with the show.”

“Rent” is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s 19th century opera “La Bohème,” which follows the struggles of young people living in the 1840s Latin Quarter of Paris during a rise in tuberculosis deaths. Similarly, “Rent” tells the story of a group of artists living in New York’s Lower East Side in the 1990’s, who are struggling to survive financially during the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. It disrupted what audiences expected from a Broadway musical then.

“At that time, big hits like ‘Les Misérables,’ ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ were the most popular shows,” Señor noted. “And here comes ‘Rent’ with an original rock score, talking about real issues that were prevalent in New York City.  To put these kinds of characters in a musical and address these kinds of issues at that time was revolutionary. The show is about a group of people who come together and take care of each other.”

Andy Señor Jr. directs Theatre Aspen’s first production of “Rent” which opens on Friday.
Courtesy photo

His journey to “Rent” was unexpectedly straight-forward. The son of Cuban immigrants and born and raised in Miami, he said that he was blessed with a musical family, which led him to pursue musical theatre in high school and college. He then auditioned for the original director of “Rent,” Michael Greif, for a spot in the MFA program at University of California San Diego. Instead of admitting him to grad school, Greif cast him in the musical.

“I’m very grateful for Michael for casting me back then,” he said. “I started playing Steve for the first four months, and then I played Angel for many, many years. Now Michael is a very dear friend of mine, and I continue to learn from him. I strive to be a director in the way that he is. For me, he’s the prototype.”

Playing Angel in “Rent” took Señor from Broadway to London’s West End and on U.S. national and international tours.  He eventually became the assistant director to Greif on the off-Broadway revival and went on to stage productions in Tokyo as well as a historic production in Havana, Cuba, which was documented in the HBO Original Documentary “Revolution Rent,” executive produced by Neil Patrick Harris and directed by Señor.

For his Aspen directorial debut, he will be joined by a stellar cast, including Michael Lepore as Mark Cohen, Blake Du Bois as Roger Davis, and Chabely Ponce as Mimi Marquez. 

“This cast is genuinely one of the best I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “They’re young and vibrant. They’re pouring themselves into this material. These are performers that that grew up listening to the soundtrack as kids and now have the opportunity to play these roles. We’re going full out with the production. It will be a magical experience.”

“Rent” opens on Friday and runs through Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Hurst Theatre.

For more information and tickets:

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