Rent is debut production in the Minerva

Rosie Freshwater and Ryan Moss lead the cast
Rosie Freshwater and Ryan Moss lead the cast

Chichester Musical Projects – otherwise known as CHIMPs – offer their first big musical production with a staging of Rent in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre from December 20–23.

Christmas Eve. A run-down New York loft. A group of squatters are trying to celebrate Christmas while outside it’s beginning to snow. Around them, the world of drugs, poverty and HIV are instilling fear into the hearts of many. In the late 1980s the eccentric world of Bohemia is being threatened by corporate America, and the inhabitants of East Village are fighting for their rights.

Loosely based on Puccini’s opera, La Bohème, the rock musical Rent features the iconic Seasons of Love and the heart-wrenching I’ll Cover You.

Laura Murray and Michael Servant – the team behind CHIMPs and the show’s co-directors and co-musical directors – are hoping for a high-impact start for the company.

“We were both studying at Chichester University, both doing music degrees,” Michael said. “And we met on the choir tour to Vienna. I then asked Laura to play drums at a school I was teaching at, at Fishbourne. We just felt like it was a good team effort.

“And then I asked Laura to play for Avenue Q which I MD’d for CAOS musical productions. We got on so well that we decided we had legs as a partnership and to think about running choirs and doing musicals.

“Chichester Musical Projects is a company that will develop musical opportunities for the people of Chichester and do that through amdram productions and also running choirs. Singing over the last ten years has become such a big pastime in all the community choirs there now are. We just wanted to develop that.

“Eventually, we will do between two and three musicals a year. This is our first one as CHIMPs. We are just going to see how it goes. We don’t want to bite off more than we can eat.

“We booked the Minerva for it because the people at Chichester Festival Theatre have been brilliant and have helped us with putting it on. With all their technical expertise, there is no other place to go. If you want to develop something like this in Chichester, then Chichester Festival Theatre is the place to be. We felt that we wanted to work really closely with the CFT.”

As for the choice of musical, Laura says: “Rent is one of my favourite musicals. I saw it twice when it was on tour last year. I just love the music and the story line. And I love the message. It is about accepting people for who they are, whether they are diseased or healthy or gay or straight or transgender.

“And also the show is set at Christmas, so it makes sense to do it now. I don’t think there has ever been a professional version of it staged around Christmas.

“It has got lots of Christmas songs in it, and one of the songs the cops sing has got extracts from lots of Christmas songs... in quite an ironic way!

“It will be playing opposite the show that they have got in the main house, which will be Beauty and the Beast. It will be a complete contrast, just right for people perhaps that don’t want to see Beauty and the Beast.”

Laura is confident as regards ticket sales which are going well: “It has got a massive cult following, and Rent is a show that people will travel from all over the country to come and see. It is just such a strong message.”

Tickets from Chichester Festival Theatre.