Rent Comes to the Wantagh Stage Due to the Passion of a Wantagh Graduate

Delaney Skelton, Features Editor

It’s the long-lasting musical that has enabled theater lovers to answer the question: “How many minutes are in a year?”  And now Johnathan Larson’s Broadway rock-musical Rent is coming to the Wantagh stage, November 20-23. With a talented cast of WHS students, a dedicated crew, and director Mrs. Naughton at the head of it all, this musical is one you don’t want to miss.

Set over the course of one year amidst New York City’s AIDS crisis, 1989-1990, Rent tells the story of a group of friends living a bohemian—meaning socially unconventional in an artistic way—life as they struggle to make ends meet while dealing with turbulent relationships, paying rent, and living with HIV. The musical is bolstered with high-energy rock songs, dramatic solos, and beautiful ballads with plenty of both tense and joyous moments throughout. 

The choice to have Rent be the theatre department’s first musical of the year comes from a deeper story. A Wantagh graduate who was close to many WHS teachers passed away due to complications from an illness, March 15, 2019. John Michael Martin, who graduated in 2003, was very close to Mr. Dubin (a retired Wantagh teacher who now subs occassionally) and Mrs. Naughton, as he was her first student in the theatre department.

“He was funny, artistic, and openly gay in a time when that was very difficult for students,” states Mrs. Naughton. “He was a friend.”

A professional photographer after graduation, John Michael Martin’s love for Rent was something that was intrinsic to who he was. Mr. Kravitz recalls that he almost took a sort of ownership over the show, and Mrs. Naughton affirms that he was obsessed with it.

“I will never forget listening to ‘Sante Fe’ in my classroom and John was shocked,” said Mr. Kravitz, who had John as a student. “He told me I wasn’t allowed to listen to Rent because it was his absolute favorite musical. John was so funny. His passing is beyond tragic. He was a talented photographer and a beautiful soul.” 

“When he passed away, and all the drama students kept asking for me to have us do Rent this year, it felt that the universe was telling me that we were supposed to do this show right now,”  says Mrs. Naughton. In addition to the memorial service held in March, Rent is produced in honor of John Michael Martin.

The opening number, adequately titled Rent, kicks off the show by introducing the audience to characters Mark (played by WHS sophomore Gabriel Cruz) and Roger (played by senior John Sileo) refusing to pay rent, as their landlord Benny (played by senior James Degnan) has broken his promise to let them live in the building rent-free. 

As the show continues, more characters join the fray, with disgraced college professor Tom Collins (played by sophomore Aidan Schroh) returning home from MIT and running into drag queen Angel Dumott Schunard (played by junior Chris Murale), and lawyer Joanne (played by junior Eleanor Breen, who is also our choreographer) dealing with her relationship with the eccentric drama queen Maureen Johnson (played by junior Katriana Koppe). Meanwhile, club dancer Mimi (played by senior Kyra Orgass) attempts to help Roger out of his depression, and Mark films it all to “see if anything comes of it.” 

Their stories tie together as their lives mingle with one another, and it all comes together to make a very heartwarming tale about friendship, love, and dealing with what happens when you lose the people you hold dear that still rings true today for many.

Wantagh High School’s production of Rent opens on November 20—John Michael Martin’s birthday—and will run five shows. Tickets for Rent are now available for purchase at

And of course, as any Rent fan would tell you, there are 525,600 minutes in a year.