After a triumphant post-pandemic return last summer, Rainbow Stage is once again about to dazzle Winnipeg audiences with a summer of live musicals that will have you singing in your seats.
To start off the 2023 season, Rainbow Stage will stage Rent, the iconic 90s’ Greenwich Village-based musical that inspired so many audience members – including members of Rainbow Stage’s cast as you’ll read – to pursue their own dreams on Broadway.
In the below Q&A* we meet Boma Cookey-Gam (who plays Joanne), Colleen Furlan (Maureen) and Elliot Lazar (Mark) to learn why they are so excited to be on stage, what audiences can expect and why Rent still resonates so much today.
What is your background with Rainbow Stage?
Colleen Furlan: This is actually my tenth show at Rainbow. My first show was Mary Poppins. I was in the ensemble there. And then funny enough, they are doing Little Mermaid this year (Aug 16 -Sept 3) and nine years ago, Elliot and I were in it. I was Ariel and Elliot was Flounder. So it's kind of cool, this nine-year full circle.
Elliot Lazar: This is kind of my second show, under the dome at least. Since Little Mermaid I have not been back. I was going to be in The Drowsy Chaperone in 2020 before COVID shut things down, and I did Guys and Dolls with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. But for about half of that time in between I've been living in the States, now so this is an opportunity for me to come home and get to play with all my friends here. I think Winnipeg’s theatre and arts community is incredibly special. So I'm always looking for excuses to come back, because this is a great one.
Boma, this is your first time on this stage. What is it like looking out at all these iconic yellow seats?
Boma Cookey-Gam: The first theatre thing I did was a very small play – an adaptation of Peter Pan, but it was in a really small studio. So, the first time I walked in here, it was very overwhelming and very emotional for me. They had told me, ‘oh, it's 2,000 seats.’ And I was like, ‘okay!’ But then I walked in, and I saw it and I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, there is going to be this many people looking at my face!?!’
But the more you're on stage it's sort of slowly sinking in the size and magnitude of the space. But it's really cool, it's a very special and I'm very, very grateful and very honoured that my first big theatre gig is on this stage.
What makes Rent such a special musical for so many people?
Elliot: I grew up with this show. It's the musical that made me want to be an actor or writer involved in theatre. So, it's huge to get to do it and to get to do it here. I remember seeing it at Rainbow last time they did it in 2010 and being so moved by it. So to be back and to get to step into the shoes of Mark Cohen – which is a part I wanted to try on for size for a very long time, is really special.
Your three characters are a love triangle of sorts. What was it like to get into these characters?
Boma: For the character of Joanne, I think in some ways, Joanne is not much different from me in that she's like a very powerful like person – very in control. The creative team also told me that I could bring a lot of my personality to the character. So, it was a very easy blend, for me to step into that role and have fun exploring the dynamics with Maureen [Colleen] and Mark [Elliot] over here. So it's, it's been a lot of fun.
Elliot [to Boma]: Yeah, the first the first thing we rehearsed together was “Tango Maureen.” Which was really fun, because our characters are meeting each other for the first time… and we were meeting each other for the first time, so that was like, ‘what a cool art imitates life moment.’
Colleen: In terms of Maureen, she's been a character that I've loved ever since I was really little. But I think my love for her has changed since I've grown into an adult because there's a lot of things that went over my head when I was first introduced to the show.
I've done so much character research on her and I just, I find her so fascinating because she is a bit of a jerk, just in how she treats her partners and she's not a faithful person. But she's so lovable at the same time. So, it's been really interesting trying to explore that.
And what about some of the other numbers you sing together, for instance Maureen and Joanne’s “Take Me or Leave Me?”
Boma: Yeah, that’s a big one!
Colleen: I called it a therapy session the other day… We’re just getting so much out in a creative, healthy way.
Boma: It's a very, very, very strong piece. Of all the tracks, that’s one of my favourites to explore. Just the back and forth and the little tango that I do with her. It's like, I’m tangoing with Mark; I'm tangoing with Maureen… And vocally for myself, just exploring how far I can go.
Colleen: The content of that song is very relatable in many relationships… Like, what are you going to do now, when we've come to this point? Sometimes it's just not going to happen and other times you want to work on it. And yeah, there's a lot of back and forth.
What do you want the audience to take out of this performance?
Elliot: I would love a new generation to discover this show that was so generation defining for, for us, and even the generation before. I really want them to embrace it. I also would love people to come who love the music, and who expect a good time and great music – for them to be really moved by the story.
Particularly, there’s the message of opening your heart to love in the face of adversity and struggle. In this case, they're dealing with drug addiction, AIDS, and poverty, and evictions – that in the face of all of that, we need to love each other. To take that away.
Colleen: It's interesting, we're coming out of a time of a global pandemic, where all of us were made to sit with ourselves for a long time and feel things that maybe we tried to avoid. And I think a lot of people say, ‘well, I want to fill my life with happy stories and like humorous things,’ and you get all of that in Rent. But I think it's also important to address grief and loss. That's something we do on this show. And for people to not push that aside.
Anything you’d like to add, that we haven’t asked?
Colleen: I just want to give a big shout out to the creative team and the crew. And the cast too, they're amazing. But for Alan [MacInnis] and the rest of the creative team – I've just never seen the story of Rent so clear. I've known Rent for ages and I've never understood all of it until right now.
Rent runs from June 28 to July 16 at Rainbow Stage within picturesque Kildonan Park. For tickets and showtimes go to rainbowstage.ca
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity