BWW Review: The Lower Ossington Theatre's RENT
Rent is Jonathan Larson's musical about a group of friends struggling to make ends meet. In his critically acclaimed show, he tells the story of love, loss, and struggle. Larson tells the story through the experiences and relationships of his colorful and complex characters whom audiences have grown to know and love.
The characters of Rent all have their own staple; Mark has his scarf, Roger has his guitar, Maureen has her self obsession, and the list goes on.
In the Lower Ossington Theatre's production of this award winning show, these iconic characters are portrayed to a tee. The production manages to stay true to the legendary show while also taking artistic license. While elements of the show, especially characterization, mirrors the original, the main place where artistic license is taken is with the character of Roger.
While Andrew Ball wows the audience as Roger with the perfect amount of
angst and raw emotion in his performance, his sound differs from what Rent-Heads are used to hearing. Ball gives Roger more of a soulful, powerful sound than audiences are used to. Actors portraying Roger tend to channel more of a harsh, rock sound, but both ways work. Ball did a stellar job as he managed to make the character his own, while still staying true to its heart.
Everyone was perfectly casted; Jacqueline Martin had Joanne's intensity and powerful voice, Brittany Scott had Maureen's sass and attitude, Shruti Kothari nailed Mimi's sultry and flirty attitude, and Phil Skala had the generous and kind nature of Angel down pat.
Considering that Angel is the emotional core of the show, Skala had his work cut out for him. Angel is supposed to make you laugh with her wit and charm, but also make you cry when she passes. Tears were shed in that theatre, as Skala's chemistry with Cesar Erba (Collins) made the shows most emotional number "Without You," intense and emotionally draining to watch - in the best way possible. If their chemistry didn't win you over, Erba's "I'll Cover You (Reprise)," would. He belted out the tune with such passion and intensity, that it would give anybody goose bumps.
Although the whole cast proved to be phenomenal, the best casting choice and performance lay with Jame Meltz as Mark Cohen. Mark Cohen is the center of the show, as he is documenting all the happenings amongst his friends in hopes of a future project. He writes, films, seeks answers, and ultimately seeks a purpose in his life. Mark Cohen is the shows lost soul, and that is a heavy role to take on. Mark Cohen can either make or break the show, and Meltz most definitely made the show.
Meltz expertly portrayed Mark with the perfect amount of attitude and sarcasm. He nailed Marks nature of being lost, yet certain of himself. His singing sounded identical to that of Anthony Rapp's, the original Mark Cohen. Meltz was without a doubt the perfect Mark. He had a brilliant chemistry with the whole cast, and his costuming was perfect for his character.
The most endearing performance of the night was by Jacqueline Martin, who played Joanne. Her voice, like the whole cast to be honest, was mind-boggling. Her vocal abilities were at bay for the first half of the performance,as her two big numbers had yet to be performed. She blew the audience away with her powerful "measure your life in love," in the iconic song "Seasons of Love." After holding the note expertly, her voice cracked slightly and she looked embarrassed - why, is a mystery, these things happen. Nevertheess, her vocal abilities were made clear. She braved through and owned her role the rest of the performance. Honorable mention goes out to her for not only being a trooper, but a talented trooper at that.
The venue of the show itself lent to the quality and intimacy of the performance. There are no stages inside the venue; instead there are individual chairs (instead of theatre seats) and an empty space in front of the room where the performance takes place. Rent is the perfect show to perform in this space because it's set is very simplistic, and the idea of Rent is to reach out to the audience. Rent is a show where the audience is supposed to feel close to the characters, and immersed in their world. The way the performance was executed and the way the space was used encompassed this perfectly.