The acclaimed rock musical “Rent” will make another run through the area. The mega-successful story based on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” following the lives of a group of struggling young artists and musicians dealing with HIV, poverty and survival in late 1980s New York City, is setting up shop at Media Theatre.
Antoine L. Smith, an out 20-something actor currently calling New York City home, is returning to Media Theatre after performing in its recent production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” He’s also making a return to “Rent,” having performed in another regional production as Tom Collins, a role he’ll reprise in this production.
Smith said Collins, an idealistic gay vagabond with AIDS and Angel’s love interest, is the “Rent” character best suited to him.
“I feel like I can relate to him more,” he said. “He has a statement to make. He’s very confident about himself and I’m confident about myself. I think it’s a great role.”
A Sioux City, Iowa, native, Smith has toured the country with productions ranging from children’s shows such as “Sesame Street Live” and “Dragon Tales Live” to grown-up fare such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
It can be quite an adjustment, from getting beat up on the street and watching the love of your life succumb to AIDS to hanging out with Big Bird and Elmo. But Smith is more than up to the task, even if he prefers the more-serious roles.
“If I had to pick, I would say I like the heavier roles because they have a true story to them. But I do like the fairy-tale ones like ‘Cats’ and ‘Into the Woods.’ ‘Rent’ is a little more difficult to pull off because you have to give a lot more emotionally and mentally just because of the subject matter. When you’re doing ‘Cats,’ it’s sort of a no-brainer. It’s just giving in a different way in these productions. In ‘Rent,’ you have to give a little bit more emotionally and mentally.”
Smith recalled being blown away by “Rent” when he first saw it in 2004, while he was still living in Iowa.
“I had seen a couple of things on TV on Rosie O’Donnell, specials here and there, and performances on the Tony Awards,” he said. “But when I actually saw it in person, it gave it another level of depth. When you listen to the CD, you learn the words and make the situation what you want. When you’re in it and you’re studying it and you’re finding out what some of the things mean, it’s a whole different ball game. It’s such a great story. It’s sad, it’s inspiring and it’s moving. It’s just a great show.”
It wasn’t long before Smith was performing in national theater productions. He relocated to New York in 2007.
“I guess I’ve always in my mind been a big-city kind of person. Where I’m from is definitely not New York City, but it wasn’t hard to adapt. There definitely was a culture shock and dealing with the pace of New York City, but other than that I felt very comfortable making that transition.”
“Rent” runs May 5-June 6 at Media Theatre, 104 E. State St., Media. For more information, visit www.mediatheatre.org or call (610) 891-0100.