BWW Reviews: New Line Theatre's Wonderful Production of RENT
If you think you've seen Rent before, you really haven't. The touring companies with adults in the lead roles never really worked for me. They all seemed too old and mature to be portraying what is basically a "coming of age" story. That's where New Line Theatre's current production really gets it right, and why you have to check it out immediately. A very talented, enthusiastic, and youthful cast brings Jonathan Larson's (book, music and lyrics) work to life in vibrant, intimate fashion that makes you actually care about these characters and their situation. This is a must-see show, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
We see the world of this squatting group of modern bohemians through the eyes of aspiring filmmaker, Mark Cohen. Jeremy Hyatt gives an ingratiating performance as Mark and is especially good on the number "Tango:Maureen", where he dances with his ex-girlfriend's new girlfriend, Joanne (a nicely nuanced Cody LaShea). Through this song and dance (choreographed by Robin Berger) they explore the many moods that make up the complex and nutty performance artist that is Maureen. Maureen, the ex played by Sarah Porter,doesn't show up until late in the first act, but she makes an immediate impression with her hilariously over the top performance art piece, "Over the Moon". This is a showstopper in Porter's hands and she "milks" it for every drop of comedy genius she can muster.
Mark's friend Roger, who's living with AIDS, is a struggling songwriter determined to write a song that will make a lasting impression. Evan Fornachon is especially strong in this emotional role, and particularly good on "One Song Glory". I even like the fact that his tousled locks often obscure his face, because it makes him look troubled and unruly. Anna Skidis plays a junkie dancer, also diagnosed, who falls for Roger, named Mimi. Together, they perform the vocal tug of war, "Another Day", as Mimi attempts to woo the reluctant Roger. Skidis really gets the opportunity to display her vocals chops, and shines in this role.
Angel, the drag queen and glue that holds this troupe together, is played with considerable charm and style by Luke Steingruby. Steingruby is a marvel, he displays very good vocal range, and he kicks it hard with the sprightly delivered "Today 4 U". Angel rescues fellow group member, Tom Collins after he's mugged, and a bond is formed. Marshall Jennings is particularly effective as Tom, and his voice wraps around the score like a velvet blanket.
After all the love affairs and relationships have been set in motion, the first act closes with the lively tune "La Vie Boheme", as the artists manage to stave off eviction and hope abounds. But, act two's gorgeous and extremely catchy opener, "Seasons of Love", is a brief respite from the tragedy that will follow. That songs' descending progression lingers throughout the course of the second act, often popping up as a counter melody to cool effect.
The supporting cast is excellent as well and includes: Shawn Bowers, Kevin Corpuz, Robert Lee Davis III, Zachary Allen Farmer, Ryan Foizey, Wendy Greenwood, Melissa Harris, Nellie Mitchell, and Marcy Wiegert.
Scott Miller's direction, with the able assistance of Mike Dowdy, is a revelation. These young lead are solidly in character and completely focused throughout. Rob Lippert's loft scenic design presents us with a compact study in urban decay and works well for the space. Lippert's lighting design is also dramatically effective. Justin Smolik's work as conductor/pianist is superb as always. In fact, the entire band is tight as a drum, and includes: D. Mike Bauer (lead guitar), Vince Clark (bass), Aaron Doerr (rhythm guitar), and Clancy Newell (percussion).
Rent is a modern classic, and New Line's wonderful production shows us why. Rent continues through March 29, 2014.