+ Interviews +
... Manley Pope
THE DAILY TAR HEEL Thursday, March 23, 2000
Arts & Entertainment N.C. Native Plays Major Role in 'Rent' by David Povill
NEW YORK Manley Pope thinks he has one of the best jobs in the world. A North Carolina native, Pope packed his bags and headed straight for New York to pursue an acting career right after graduating from East Carolina University, where he majored in communications and minored in theater. "I graduated on a Saturday and was in New York by the following Thursday," Pope said. "I knew New York was where I needed to be."
He studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York for two years. "That's where I got all of my training," he said. Pope played some minor roles in film and television before scoring his big break.
Now he stars as Roger in the Broadway musical "Rent," the brilliant modern-day version of "La Boheme" written by Jonathan Larson about a group of young Bohemians living in New York City's East Village at the end of the second millennium. Although not generally interested in musicals, Pope said he was drawn to the rock-concert feel of "Rent.""The music is incredible," said Pope. Indeed, "Rent" received a Tony award for best score in 1996. The critically acclaimed play masterfully weaves the lives of a strikingly true-to-life cast of characters.
Through the narration of the lead role, Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, the unique stories of Mark's ex-girlfriend, ex-roommate, best friend and roommate all come to life, touching the hearts of audience members. Pope's character, Roger, for example, is Mark's present roommate. He's a musician struggling to write "one great song" before falling prey to HIV and eventually full-blown AIDS as he sings in one of the show's most stirring songs, "Glory." Roger also struggles with a seemingly doomed relationship with Mimi, a heroin addict and erotic dancer with a heart of gold.
The story is obviously not sugar-coated. It is a love story, but only among the many hardships and losses faced in New York City. Many characters are dealing with HIV, drug-addiction and homelessness. Pope fell ill last week and couldn't perform in the show this reporter had the chance to see over Spring Break. An understudy played Roger's part in his place. But the performance still noticeably touched the audience. Many people reached for a tissue during "Glory," which is only the second song of the play, and the tissues continued to appear as many more tear-jerking scenes followed.
What is so striking about the play is that it is definitively modern but also classic. The characters, while based on those of "La Boheme," are crafted with such meticulous care that you feel you truly know all of them within one act. So deep are the characters and so moving is the music that often a single scene will leave the audience choked up for minutes on end. But the beauty of the show is the realism. It's not all AIDS and dying, but it's also not all smiles and jokes. "It's a period piece, really. It was written in 1994, so it's really about people living in 1994," Pope said of the play. "There's been a lot of progress since then, specifically with AZT and other AIDS medications." Pope said the play was essentially about love, human relationships and survival in a very harsh world. When asked to sum up "Rent" in his own words Pope said, "It's about a group of friends trying to make it in life and figure out what's really important." "And what they find is that love is what counts love for themselves and each other," he said. "Jonathan Larson wrote a really incredible piece of work. It's wonderful to be part of it."
Larson, who toiled over "Rent" for two years before it opened off- Broadway in 1996, was unfortunately never able to see his masterpiece completed. In a tragic twist of fate, Larson died a week before the show opened, at the age of 35. He was not alive to receive his three Tonys and numerous other treasured theater awards."People think that it's sad that (Larson) won't get to see his own great accomplishment, but I think he sees it," Pope said. "His spirit will live on in the show."