BWW Reviews: Stage Door Inc.'s RENT is High-Energy Fun
Pasadena's Stage Door Inc. is greeting 2013 with the 1996 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Jonathan Larson's renown musical RENT. RENT, inspired by Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème, tells the story of a handful of New York City's East Village artists and their struggles with life, love, AIDS, and addiction.
Stage Door Inc.'s Executive Director Marc Anthony Glover smartly directs the production. Utilizing his stage space, he adds a few unique touches to the production that provide pleasant surprises for audience members who have seen the show multiple times. In all honesty, as someone who has seen at least five professional productions of RENT, including the brilliantly played final Broadway tour with Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, I was not expecting to enjoy this production. In the long run, Marc Anthony Glover proved me wrong and presented a production of RENT that was enjoyable and at times very powerful in his intimate venue. My two favorite unique aspects of his production was the surround effect and candles used in "Will I" and Angel's delightfully costumed entrance in "Finale B."
Leading the show, Travis Hamilton's Roger and Michael "Mikey" Hougton's Mark are both well sung and well acted. These two men make the audience care for them and their struggles. At the top of the show, Travis Houghton's strumming on the electric guitar did not match the canned music. Any fears this caused were instantly chased away when he opened his mouth to sing the opening number "RENT." Highlights from the two male leads include Travis Hamilton's rocking, emotionally stirring "One Song Glory," Michael "Mikey" Houghton's insightful "Halloween," and their duet on "What You Own."
As Mimi, Gretchen Odum entertains as she dances and sings. Very few of the Mimi's I have ever seen find their upper-register on "Out Tonight," and Gretchen Odum was no different. Despite missing the notes, she was convincing and enjoyable in every other aspect of the show. Her "Goodbye Love" was perfectly heartbreaking, and perhaps my favorite moment of hers on stage.
Leslie Sharp's Maureen is a pure diva. In her bio she states that this is the most challenging role she has ever played, but her preparation and hard work shine through in the performance. Despite being sick at the performance I saw, she sang in full voice. Her solo on "Seasons of Love" and her rendition of "Over the Moon" were simply magnificent.
Opposite Leslie Sharp's Maureen is Simone Williams' powerhouse performance as Joanne. When on stage, Simone Williams commands attention and deserves every bit of it. Her Joanne is a perfect portrayal of what audiences who prefer the Broadway version to the film version have come to expect from the role. Her performances of "Tango Maureen" and "Take Me or Leave Me" were easily some of the best moments in the whole show.
Playing Angel, Tyonce Moore showcases every ounce of talent that makes her a trained and talented triple threat. She dances and sings with tangible exuberance. The only flaw in her performance was that she was obviously winded by the end of "Today 4 U," which really is not a problem for me. Having seen Angel's who forgo the dancing for the vocals, I prefer my Angel's who know to dance their hearts out. The role is physically demanding and that should never be overlooked for any reason.
Rocky Banks' Collins was my least favorite character in this production. I have high expectations for Collins because he is my favorite role in the show and somewhat of a dream role for me. I found Rocky Banks' talking in rhythm and talk-singing to be completely annoying and distracting. He fantastically portrays the emotional character aspects of the show. Yet, as someone who appears to have problems singing, he seems unfairly miscast in the show. Furthermore, in my opinion, if he cannot sing the solo in "Seasons of Love," I don't understand why the director didn't give it to someone else. After all, they did have Travis Hamilton sing under him to bring it out anyway.
Benny, as portrayed by Daniel Edwards, comes across as a fiscally savvy New York Jew. This was an interesting take on the role that I found rather enjoyable. I'd like to see Daniel Edwards take a risk and go for gold by adding in a consistent New York accent. Without it his performance is fun, with it, I feel his performance would be brilliant.
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