BWW Reviews: Ocean State Theatre Company Brings Seasons of Love to Their New Space with RENT

‚Äč

Ocean-State-Theatre-Company-Brings-Seasons-of-Love-to-Their-New-Space-with-Fantastic-RENT-20010101

For five years, after Bill Hanney bought and reopened the historic barn theater in Matunuck, musicals at Theatre By the Sea were produced and staged by Ocean Sate Theatre Company, led by Producing Artistic Director Amiee Turner and Managing Director Joel Kipper. When the five years ended, Hanney did not renew their contract and Turner and Kipper had no choice but to take their ball and go home. That is, they took it to Warwick, Rhode Island, where they opened their own brand-spanking-new space on Jefferson Boulevard, near the airport. And the "ball" they took with them was their considerable expertise, skill and knowledge regarding how to put on theater of the highest caliber.

The inaugural season of the new Ocean State Theatre Company began with two holiday shows, followed by Neil Simon's Fools. For their first big musical production, they have chosen one of the most popular and beloved musicals of contemporary theater, Jonathan Larson's RENT. For those who are not "Rentheads," Larson's rock opera is based on Puccini's opera La boheme and revolves around a group of young, struggling artists and musicians, living in New York City in the mid-1990s, dealing with life, love, loss, creativity and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Larson's music and lyrics are beautiful and emotionally charged, creating every reaction from belly laughs to a shiver down the spine. They call for a cast of singers who can handle the vocal calisthenics while also living the songs and music truthfully on stage. It's in the vocal arena that this cast does stumble a bit. Hard to tell if it was because of opening night after a long week of technical rehearsals and previews, but vocal energy was sorely lacking in many instances. There were moments that called for supernova-like energy from performers who only mustered the flicker of a flame, which was disappointing.

Not helping was the fact that many of the actors were hard to hear. This was in part due to the live band in the pit. Yes, it's a rock musical, so it's going to be loud, but one can't help but wonder if something can't be done so that the band isn't drowning out the performers to such an extent. At times, though, the actors seemed to be almost mumbling, while other times they appeared to lose their breath or voice altogether for a moment. Again, hard to say why, but perhaps it's something that Music Director Esther Zabinski will be able to work on and improve next time around.

Luckily, the vocal deficiencies are overcome by two important factors. First is Turner, who directed the production. Not sure what her secret is, but she has an undeniable and uncanny talent for putting together an extraordinary ensemble of actors who have incredible chemistry together. You will believe these performers really are lifelong friends and you will feel everything they go through together. You might even have to remind yourself they're just actors who have only worked together for a few weeks of rehearsals and performances. Their chemistry and connections on stage are so real it's scary.

They are also that second factor that makes one forget the shortcomings of the vocal performances. They are so good, so real and believable, you really won't care about any minor problems. For example, Nora Fox as Mimi can't really hold her own during her big solo introduction, "Out Tonight," but you will forgive her when she breaks your heart in act two, particularly in "Without You." Antonio Tillman as Angel also seemed to have trouble with the demanding songs and lyrics. But again, he's so charismatic and fun to watch, you'll love him anyway.

Janet McWilliams and Kendra Payne, as Maureen and Joanne, respectively, deserve mention for what was, for me, the best solo or duet of the show. They finally demonstrated in "Take Me Or Leave Me" what can happen when two actresses have both the acting talent and the powerful singing voices to really come together and blow the doors off the set. Dan McInerney also shines throughout the production as Mark, including a chance to show off his quality singing in "What You Own." All of the ensemble numbers are uniformly excellent as well.

On a technical note, everything worked wonderfully except for the lighting design by Weston Wilkerson. There were far too many moving lights, with stars and swirls moving and flying around all over the place, usually to a distracting and annoying degree. This was especially true in scenes where less would have been more. Additionally, a poor choice was made to have the climactic scene in such low light that it's almost impossible to see the actors' facial expressions, which was unfortunate.

That aside, RENT is always a show that should be seen whenever the opportunity arises and it never fails to engage, entertain and inspire audiences. This production is no different. Ocean State Theatre Company is clearly off to a strong start with RENT, a production which should not be missed.

RENT will run from February 20 - March 10. Performances are Wednesday (except March 6) through Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm, with matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm. Ocean State Theatre Company is located at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI. Tickets are $39 for preview performances and $39-$54 for all other performances. Discount rates for groups fo 20 or more are available by calling (401) 921-1777 x112. $25 "Rush" tickets are available on a limited basis one hour prior to curtain the day of the performance. Tickets are on sale at the box office Tuesday through Friday from 12 noon - 6:00 pm, Saturdays from 12 noon - 4:00 pm, and from 12 noon until curtain on performance days. Tickets are also available online 24 hours a day at www.OceanStateTheatre.org and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling (401) 921-6800.

Pictured (L to R): Nile Hawver and Nora Fox. Photo by Mark Turek.

More Rhode Island! More...


Comment & Share


About Author

Subscribe to Author Alerts
Robert Barossi Robert Barossi has worked in just about every possible job in professional theater, from actor to stage manager to company manager to box office and house manager. This has included time spent immersed in the theater and arts scenes in places like Philadelphia, D.C., Boston and Rhode Island. He has also been a staff writer for Motif Magazine in Rhode Island, writing reviews, previews and features, for six years, leaving the publication just recently. Though not working in professional theater currently, he continues to work on being an aspiring playwright and getting to as much theater as possible.


 
🔀RHODE ISLAND SHOWS
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Rhode IslandJoseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
(Runs 11/4 - 11/9)
South Pacific in Rhode IslandSouth Pacific
(Runs 10/10 - 11/16)
Brighton Beach Memoirs in Rhode IslandBrighton Beach Memoirs
(Runs 10/30 - 11/23)
Over The River And Through The Woods in Rhode IslandOver The River And Through The Woods
(Runs 11/28 - 12/21)
Lie, Cheat, and Genuflect in Rhode IslandLie, Cheat, and Genuflect
(Runs 11/28 - 12/31)
I Love Lucy Live on Stage in Rhode IslandI Love Lucy Live on Stage
(Runs 2/24 - 3/1)

View All | Add Show | Auditions

Message Board

BWW BLOGS