24 hours and presto! You get ‘Rent’



By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


Anyone who has ever been involved in live theater knows that it takes an inordinate amount of effort and energy — and time — to stage even an amateur production. There are weeks to months of preparation involving learning lines, rehearsals with director and cast, plus the prep work for the stage crew and the lighting people and the costumers and the make-up artists.

Make the production a musical, and it gets even more complicated. You’ve got to factor in choreography and musicians and musical direction and vocal arrangements.

The old Mickey Rooney- Judy Garland notion of “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” is pure myth. Or it used to be. In Kearny this week, it’s “Hey, kids, let’s put on “Rent”!

The West Hudson Arts & Theater Co. (W.H.A.T.) is planning a marathon “24-Hour Musical Challenge,” with production work on the award-winning rock musical starting from scratch at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, and culminating at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, with a public performance.

Once the cast and crew arrive at the W.H.A.T. Theater at 131 Midland Ave., Kearny, on Friday evening, they will be locked in and proceed to work ‘round the clock until they take the stage before an audience the following night.

Not to worry, notes Linda Kraus D’Isa, publicist for W.H.A.T. There will be chaperones for the young performers, ages 16-22, a nurse will be on call, and there will be 24-hour security.

We presume there will also be food; the energetic young require substanial consumable fuel.

She also noted that this will be the high-school version of “Rent,” “so it is age appropriate.”

D’Isa expects at least 30 participants in the marathon, representing not just Hudson, but also Bergen, Essex and Passaic counties. The event is a fundraiser for the theater group, which hopes to make it an annual event.

“This is literally a full show, produced entirely in one day,” said W.H.A.T. artistic director Joe Ferriero, who described the project as the “new flash mob.”

Similar 24-hour theatrical challenges have been produced elsewhere across the country, but this is a first for Kearny.

Participants were notified two weeks ago that the production would be “Rent,” the Pulitzer Prizeand Tony Award-winning musical. Set in what used to be known as Alphabet City (that part of Manhattan’s Lower East Side where Avenues A, B, C and D are located), “Rent” is based on Puccini’s “La Boheme.” But its characters are modernday young artists and bohemians, and the music is definitely not operatic.

Other than learning what show they’d be staging, “everything else — the script, the cast, costumes, set and even the production staff ’s roles– are kept a secret,” Ferriero said.

“We will work throughout the night and into the next day in a creative — and I’m sure caffeine-fueled — diligent setting to bring this show to the stage,” he added.

The idea for the project came from Linda D’Isa’s daughter, Faith D’Isa, a Kearny resident and musical theater major at High Tech High School in North Bergen.

“It began with my wanting to do something different for my 18th birthday,” Faith said, “and the 24-hour musical challenge was always something that intrigued me.” Faith also suggested using the challenge as a fundraiser for W.H.A.T. “We have asked everyone involved to make a donation to the theater,” she explained.

Other funds will be raised by the tickets sold for Saturday night’s show, which are priced at $7.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.whatco.org, by calling 201-467-8624, or at the W.H.A.T. Theater, 131 Midland Ave. Tickets also will be available at the door.

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