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Shane Valle recalls someone once asking him this: if he could direct any musicals, what would they be? He answered, without hesitation, "Les Miserables" and "Rent."
They have always been two of his favorite shows. In fact, he's seen "Rent" at least seven times - on Broadway a few times, plus touring company productions.
Well, two years ago, he got the chance to direct "Les Mis" at Waterford High School, where he serves as drama director. He had the right people at the right time to stage that demanding production.
This week, he is checking off the other musical on his list. He is directing "Rent" with his newly minted Waterford Summer Theatre. It's a companion event to Waterford Week, and this marks the 50th show that Valle has directed over the course of his career.
"Rent" - the Pulitzer Prize-winning Jonathan Larson piece inspired by Puccini's "La Boheme" - deals with "love, community and struggling to live each day to its fullest potential," he says.
It also touches on some challenging subjects. With the rise in reports of heroin use, "Rent's" storyline dealing with heroin has become even more pertinent. Other matters, such as HIV/AIDS and homelessness, remain relevant, too.
"Even though 'Rent' debuted on Broadway 18 years ago, all of the themes and topics and issues these people are going through - they're still there, they still exist," he says.
Valle wants to give information to the community about these various subjects, too, and so more than a half-dozen organizations including Alliance for Living and Habitat for Humanity will set up tables at the performances.
The 15-person "Rent" cast, meanwhile, ranges in age from 18 to 30. A couple actors are heading into their senior year of high school, while a couple others are engineers at Electric Boat. Then, too, there are college students majoring in theater.
Josh Cushing, a Waterford High School alum who is now choir director at Montville High School, provides musical direction for the production, which is about 95 percent sung.
While "Rent" isn't a Waterford Week production per se, it marks a return of musicals to the Waterford Week line-up. The last one was in 2009, but different phases of high school construction prevented any since then. Valle directed "Grease" for Waterford Week in 2005. In 2007, he took over producing the musicals, presenting "Godspell" that year and "Back to the '80s" in 2009.
While "Rent" is Waterford Summer Theatre's debut production, Valle would be happy if it turns into a going concern.
"I hope if things go well, it becomes a yearly thing," he says.
"Rent," 7:30 tonight-Sat., Waterford High School Auditorium, Rope Ferry Road; because of "Rent's" language and material, Waterford Summer Theatre is calling this a PG-13 musical; $15, $10 students; (860) 575-3976 or email email@example.com.