BWW Review: Jonathan Larson's RENT Brings Excellent Ensemble to The Gateway
I'm always cautiously optimistic in seeing a regional production of Jonathan Larson's Rent as I am a Renthead of MANY years. The thing to remember, obviously, is art has different interpretations. It is interesting to see the different elucidations of the choreography, the varied choices the actors make, the Director's vision, et cetera. I can proudly say that The Gateway Playhouse's incarnation of the Tony and Pulitzer winner, which is kicking off a very busy Summer season for the darling Bellport venue, does not disappoint.
Having a twelve and a half year run on Broadway, this game changing production, set to a rock-opera score, is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème following the lives of several impoverished New York City artists at the height of the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980's/early 1990's.
Running through June 3rd, The Gateway's ensemble cast, excellently directed by Matt Karris, includes Gateway vets Jeremy Greenbaum and Anthony Festa as longtime friends Mark Cohen and Roger Davis, respectively. Mark is a struggling, independent videographer and also serves as the story's narrator. Mr. Greenbaum is a fine choice to portray the adorkable Mark. A great voice makes him a natural for the role. Mr. Greenbaum and Mr. Festa make a great team particularly with their rendition of audience favorite "What You Own" in Act II. Mark is roommates with Roger, a once successful musician but is now struggling to cope with life with AIDS and is a recovering drug addict. Mr. Festa is also a smart choice for the role of Roger. Another audience favorite is his heartbreaking rendition of the hit "One Song, Glory" where he tells about wanting to leave a meaningful song after he dies.
Without question, one of the most overwhelming performances is delivered by Queens native Jared Dixon as Tom Collins. His rendition of the reprise of "I'll Cover You" brings the audience to tears. Additionally, Michelle Veintimilla, another Gateway alum who portrays Mimi, is a highlight. Mimi is a dancer and junkie who lives downstairs from Mark and Roger's apartment. Ms. Veintimilla is spot on with Mimi's hopeful demeanor and puts on a superb performance of "Out Tonight".
Also part of the stellar cast is Andres Quintero as Angel Dumott Schunard, Tom Collins' drag queen partner. Mr. Quintero is an exceptional Angel and he makes tears overflow particularly in act two. Natalie Storrs provides the comic relief as Maureen Johnson, a performance artist and Mark's ex-girlfriend. Indeed Ms. Storrs is hilariously animated during the protest performance "Over the Moon". Maureen has left Mark for Joanne, portrayed phenomenally by Moeisha McGill, they give a buffo rendition of "Take Me Or Leave Me".
Truth be known, I really could go on and on about the entire company, but you got the idea they are a brilliant company.
As for Mr. Karris' creative team, scenic designer Brittany Loesch got the true flavor of the story in her set. A broken down East Village dons the stage; dark and angst ridden. This is enhanced stunningly by Jose Santiago's top-notch lighting and Dustin Cross' costumes. And a special kudos to the outstanding live orchestra headed up Music Director Andrew Austin. The band is not on the stage for Gateway's run as they have an orchestra pit.
And so, there is "no day but today" to see Jonathan Larson's Rent at The Gateway Playhouse. Typically we Rentheads say "Thank You, Jonathan Larson". However, today I am also going to say Thank You Mr. Karris, wonderful cast, and fantastic creative team for a job well done.
Created by Jonathan Larson, Directed by Matt Karris, Choreography by Gerry McIntyre, Musical Direction by Andrew Austin, Lighting Design by Jose Santiago, Costume Design by Dustin Cross, Scenic Design by Brittany Loesch, Stage Management by John "JP" Pollard, Casting by Michael Baker.
With Amar Atkins, Kyle Robert Carter, Mike D'Amico, Jared Dixon, Jerome Doerger, Anthony Festa, Jay Gamboa, Jeremy Greenbaum, Alexa Jane Lowis, Moeisha McGill, Amma Osei, Andres Quintero, Natalie Storrs, Dustin Sullivan, Michelle Veintimilla, and Hannah-Jo Weisberg.
Photo by Jeff Bellante; Jeremy Greenbaum (Mark) and the company of Rent.