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... Manley Pope 
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." 
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