BWW Reviews: Giving RENT its Due - Imagine's Gritty, Intimate Show
Jonathan Collura understands RENT.
A few years back, Collura played Mark in Columbus Children's Theater production of the Jonathan Larson musical. This spring he makes Imagination Production's directorial debut in the company's production of RENT, which closes its run May 14-18 at the Wall Street Nightclub (144 N. Wall Street in downtown Columbus).
Judging by the troupe's May 10 performance, the Ohio State University graduate and the Hartley High School music director clearly gets what makes RENT special and how to present it. The 18-member cast and its five piece band gave a show that was gritty, intimate and ultimately a joy to watch.
Brent Rayburn, whose alter ego is central Ohio comedian/emcee Brent Fabian, gave intensity and humor to Roger Davis, a rock guitarist who discovered he is dying from the HIV virus. Davis strikes up a relationship with Mimi Marquez (played by a smoldering Cassie Kahr), who is also HIV Positive. Chip Danver adds neurotic eccentricity to Mark Cohen, a struggling filmmaker who serves as the story's narrator. Kahr and Rayburn concoct a believable cocktail of awkward passion and jealousy in songs like "Light My Candle," "Out Tonight," and "Another Day."
When it is done correctly, RENT is an ensemble tour de force that extends far past the doomed love story of Roger and Mimi. This production spreads the spotlight to several other actors including Brian Gray (Tom Collins), Alex Lanier (Joann Jefferson), Zoe Lathan (Maureen Johnson) and Ricky Locci (Benjamin Coffin III). Zhane Dawlingz shines as Angel Dumott Shunard. The duet between Collins and Shunard in "I'll Cover You" and "Santa Fe" and the feisty exchanges between Maureen and Joann in "Take Me or Leave Me" as well as Maureen's idiosyncratic reading of "Over The Moon" provide some of the show's many highpoints.
Jeremy Brown, Michael Carozza, Steven Carnahan, Akillah Clark, Cassie Gress, Lena Haleem, Meredith Post, Andrew Protopapas, Elena Reinert and Abby Zeszotek made hairs stand on end in the show's powerhouse choral numbers like "Will I," "La Vie Boheme" and of course "Seasons of Love."
Collura takes advantage of the intimacy of Wall Street to stage these songs, having the cast members intermingle off stage with the audience. Those who get up to use the restrooms run the risk of becoming a member of the show's choir.
Perhaps the only knock on the show is the acoustics of the theater. The rock band, conducted by Sam Falcone and made up of Jim Kucera (piano), Derrick Walter (guitar), Colin Higgs (piano/guitar), Richard Wesner (bass) and Darren Wethington (drums), at times overpowered the vocals. It's a small criticism for a very strong show.
The show's anchoring number "Seasons of Love," says each year is made up of "525,600 minutes." Imagine's production of RENT made the most of its150 minutes on May 10.
The final four performances of RENT are 7:30 p.m. May 14-18 at the Wall Street Nightclub located at 144 N. Wall Street in Downtown Columbus.