ALAMEDA -- The inspirational, yet gritty, journey of love and loss unfolds on the Altarena stage in the company's upcoming production of "Rent."

Winner of both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize, "Rent" runs Friday through April 16 at the Altarena Playhouse.

Based on Puccini's "La Boheme," the rock musical tells of a group of young artists and musicians struggling to survive in New York's lower East side. Tuberculosis, the plague of Puccini's opera, is replaced by HIV/AIDS in "Rent." The musical takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows that, unfortunately, are also reflected in the real life of the show's composer Jonathan Larson. The 35-year-old collapsed and died of an aortic aneurysm following the exuberant dress rehearsal of "Rent."

"I'm very excited to tell this story in our theater-in-the-round setting," said director Stewart Lyle. "We can achieve a level of intimacy here that isn't possible in larger theaters where this show is usually performed."

On the other hand, the Altarena's smaller staging added some challenges.

"In this show, there are several times when different scenes are going on simultaneously," Lyle explained. "On a bigger stage, they can be separated spatially. I had to figure out how to do those overlaps in a very confined space, but I think our solution is kind of neat and hope the audience agrees."

Lyle, who also designed the set, had to figure out how to get all the props and set pieces on and off without disrupting the flow of the musical: "I like to have as few blackouts as possible because it really pulls the audience's focus. But, we have very limited offstage space to store things so you have to design set pieces that collapse easily and can be moved quickly."

As to the strong language and adult situations portrayed in the show, Lyle felt they shouldn't be a problem for audiences.

"Artistic director Frederick Chacon has done a great job exposing the Altarena's audience to a wide variety of programing," Lyle said. "He does some challenging productions such as last year's 'Spring Awakening' but always includes more traditional shows as well. I don't think they'll have a problem with 'Rent' at all, and when the entire cast is onstage singing, it's pretty exciting."

Audiences will have an opportunity to talk with Lyle and cast members following performances on March 23 and April 6. In addition, "Rent" begins the Altarena's new First Sunday program. Under this program, the Altarena partners with a local nonprofit to raise awareness for the nonprofit as well as to contribute half of the proceeds from ticket sales at the first Sunday performance of the show.

For "Rent," this Sunday -- March 17 -- is the First Sunday. At that performance, half of the proceeds will go to Alameda Family Services, an organization dedicated to improving the emotional, psychological and physical health of children, youth and families in Alameda. For more information on Alameda Family Services, visit their website at http://www.xanthos.org.

FYI
For tickets to "Rent," call 510-523-1553 or go to www.altarena.org.