RENT is one of the most revolutionary new musicals of the modern era, and a generation of musical theatre artists grew up belting out the challenging rock score in their cars, bedrooms, and showers. The story revolves around a tight band of bohemian 20-somethings who struggle as friends, lovers, artists and persons living with AIDS. The rights to the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock opera were just released this year, making it possible for companies like Town Hall Arts Center to offer it to the community.
Town Hall’s RENT Rings True for Long Time Fans
HE SAID: The first time I saw RENT I knew that it would hold a special place in my life. Now, I have seen this show a half a dozen times and the cast album has a permanent dedicated playlist. There is something about the raw energy of the piece that pulls me in every time I see it, and this production is no exception.
SHE SAID: Although I was a musical theatre-obsessed teen, I was never a card-carrying RENThead. I’ve seen the show a small handful of times, and it has become more and more meaningful each time. This production really drew me in and made me relate to the characters more than ever. It was so apparent and inspiring that everyone on the stage was giving their whole heart, and handling the material with such respect and love. That passion was met by incredibly powerful vocal performances, which really made the production soar.
The Cast’s Strong Unique Touches Bring New Life to the Show
HE SAID: There was not a single bad voice in the bunch, and in fact most were unbelievably impressive vocally. Perhaps more importantly to the RENTheads out there, this cast connected to the long familiar RENT score we know, but also brought their own flavor to each of their parts. My favorite performance came from Ryan Belinak as Collins (Tom Collins), who had one of the most beautiful moments I have seen on stage recently as he sang “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)”. He seemed to fight the obvious heartbreak of losing his lover and sang with a tint of happiness I have never seen performed at that moment before. It was as if singing those words momentarily lessened his pain and took him back to the moment he fell in love. Seeing that spark of joy made the return to reality and emotional climax of the song incredibly heart-wrenching.
SHE SAID:My favorite performances of the evening were by Russell Mernagh as Roger and Ashlie-Amber Harris as Joanne. Both are stunning vocalists, but they also brought new dimensions to the roles that I appreciated. Mernagh’s Roger was a believable brooder, but with significant hints of the “pretty boy frontman” that he used to be. I was really fighting for him to find that former self, in contrast to a more alienating, self-involved Roger. Harris as Joanne was fierce, ambitious, sexy, and always a joy to watch on stage. Also, I have a She Said Shout Out to Traci Kern, who was the out-of-this-world female soloist in “Seasons of Love.” It took me a while to warm up to Anna Gibson as Mimi. She was so sweet and at times innocent that she didn’t have the believable hard edge that most Mimis embody. However, the advantage to this choice was that I ended up caring about her more than most Mimis, and relating to her relationships and struggles more than ever.
Nick Sugar Leads Solid Cast to Find Honesty and Family in the Piece
HE SAID: In my opinion, the most important role to cast well is the heart of the show — Angel. I am happy to say that Danny Harrigan was dazzling, bringing a unique blend of charming fierceness and gentle honesty to the role. He made it easy to fall in love with him right along with the characters on stage. Matt LaFontaine played a lot with his music to suit his incredible range and really made me see why Benny was once friends with the rest of the group (a trait that has often eluded other Bennys). Mark Lively as Mark succeeded in his difficult role at many points, but at times his excitement got the better of him and his words became hard to distinguish. He also seemed to clip a lot of his notes making his songs seem more conversational at times, which often cut off the emotional context of the music.
SHE SAID: I’m not sure I noticed that in Mark, but I did notice that I had a growing concern for Amanda Earls’ (Maureen) vocal health – her raspy rocker voice, while great for the role, seemed to be strained at the top of her range (but hey, people used to say the same thing about Idina Menzel). I was continually impressed with the vocal and performance quality from the ensemble members — I would be eager to see any one of them in a leading role. Individual performances aside, the real beauty of the show is really the family that is created by circumstance, and director Nick Sugar did an incredible job making everyone on stage part of that family. Sugar’s qualifications as a choreographer were also a gift to the production — all the performers were skilled movers in addition to singers, which really helped complete the telling of their stories.
RENT Passes Expectations and Embodies Larson’s Story with Love
THEY SAID: Combined we have seen this show 10 times. We expected that the set by Tina Anderson and lights by Star Pytel would perfectly emulate the original designs while suiting the unique needs of Town Hall’s more intimate space. We expected that the rocking band, lead by Donna K. Debreceni, would jam out the recognizable tunes. What we didn’t expect was how this cast would surprise us with their new and believable interpretations of the characters (which was no small accomplishment). Perhaps more importantly, there is a palpable joy in every word and every musical number. It’s that artistic spirit that lead Jonathan Larson through life until his untimely demise the night before his masterpiece hit previews. I am sure he would be proud of what his work has become and artists, such as this cast, telling his story.
Curious about this show? See the Wikipedia entry for RENT (the musical). RENT is currently playing and will run until October 17th. Click the banner below for TICKETS AND INFO!