BWW Review: Redhouse Arts Centers Opens Season With RENT

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BWW Review: Redhouse Arts Centers Opens Season With RENT
The company of the Redhouse Arts Center production of Rent.
Photo by Genevieve Fridley.

The Redhouse Arts Center opens its 2019-2020 season with none other than Jonathan Larson's Tony Award -winning musical RENT under the incredible direction of the Broadway-credited husband and wife team Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody. Hunter Foster is the Redhouse Arts Center Artistic Director and this production will be hard to beat for the rest of the season thanks to the stellar cast, top-notch musical direction by Abel Searor, breathtaking set design by Carolyn Mraz, impressive choreography by Jennifer Cody, and, of course, the story that changed musical theatre history.

Directors Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody, along with the help of scenic designer Carolyn Mraz, scenic artist Elizabeth Latella, lighting designer Travis McHale, sound designer Anthony Vadala, and many more transformed the very adaptable space in the Redhouse Arts Center into New York's Lower East Side. The space has been beautifully transformed to allow for the show to be presented in the round. The attention to detail is impressive as there is not a spot in the space that was not transformed from the walls, seating, lighting, sound, to the stage itself. The result is magic. To have the audience surround the stage for this musical and have the actors positioned throughout the audience on various set pieces adds yet another touch to the already emotional and powerful story. The result is a production that steals the spotlight even before the show begins.

RENT is, of course, loosely based on Puccini's La Boheme. The story takes place over the course of a year as a group of artists struggle to survive in New York's Lower East Side. The group of bohemians yearn to create, love, reach their dreams, but face innumerable challenges - not least of which are (for some) living with HIV/AIDS, and drug addiction. (Note, this show also includes numerous sexual references, and features some brief nudity.)

There's Mark (Ryan Albinus) the film maker, and Roger (Collin Purcell) the songwriter/musician with AIDS. Mimi (Yarissa Tiara Millan) is a club dancer and drug addict with AIDS. Then there's Tom Collins (Temar Underwood) an anarchist professor, and Angel (Rhoyle), a drag queen, both of whom have to deal with the disease. Rounding out the cast of characters are Maureen (Ariella Serur), a lesbian performance artist and lesbian; Joanne (Joanie Anderson), a lesbian lawyer with an Ivy League education; and Benny (Marcus Jordan), the landlord and ex-roommate of Mark, Collins, Roger, and Maureen.

Directors Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody assembled a stellar cast to bring the iconic characters to life, decked out in Nicole V Moody's bohemian costumes. With some help from musical director Abel Searor, who directs the talented six-person orchestra, the show proves to be unstoppable from the first downbeat. The opening title musical number "Rent" provides an energetic start to an evening filled with electrifying powerhouse performances by not only the principal actors, but the ensemble.

Ryan Albinus brings a refreshing, comedic, and lovable take on the recently dumped film maker, Mark. His fiery energy lights up the stage and his mischievous smile often steals the spotlight. His comedic line delivery and natural chemistry with his castmates makes his performance a standout throughout the show. Albinus brings the comedic charm in "Tango: Maureen" alongside Joanie Anderson as Joanne, showing off Jennifer Cody's spunky choreography. He brings the emotion in "What You Own" with Colin Purcell.

Collin Purcell as Roger showcases great chemistry with Yarissa Tiara Millan as Mimi. Their rendition of "Light My Candle" is a flirtatious showstopper. Purcell also delivers an emotional performance of "One Song Glory." Purcell's vocals steadily improved on the night I saw the show, and is contribution to a chilling "What You Own" (along with Ryan Albinus) is first-rate.

Yarissa Tiara Millan's Mimi is sassy, fiery, and has plenty of attitude. Millan's confidence as an actor and her strong vocals are on fully display as she effortlessly flaunts everything she has on "Out Tonight." She steals the spotlight with her emotional rendition of "Without You" alongside Collin Purcell.

Ariella Serur's brings all the spunk, sass, and the over-the-top performance at acting that one expects in the role of Maureen. Serur makes it clear that she is certainly having a blast on stage and brings the house down with "Over the Moon." The iconic and favorite duet "Take Me or Leave Me" shows off her powerhouse vocals. Serur's energy and passion for the role is evident in her confident scene stealing performance.

Joanie Anderson as Joanne, Maureen's new girlfriend (and polar opposite), delivers a standout performance of "Tango: Maureen" alongside Ryan Albinus. She brings the comedic charm in "We're Okay."

Temar Underwood's Collins didn't leave a dry eye in the house when he performed his gorgeous and emotional rendition of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" along with the rest of the Company. His expressive and passionate vocals make numbers like "Santa Fe" most memorable. His likeable stage presence and impressive chemistry with Rhoyle as Angel are some of the reasons why he was an audience favorite.

Rhoyle as Angel brings the energy, dramatic flair, and of course bucket-drumming talent in the always entertaining "Today 4U" - expertly delivering Jennifer Cody's choreography with great sass and confidence. Temar Underwood and Rhoyle's chemistry make "You Okay, Honey?" and "I'll Cover You" instant favorites.

Marcus Jordan's crisp, clear, and smooth vocals steal the spotlight in "You'll See." His performance as Benny was probably one of my favorites.

The entire ensemble cast (Adrian Beck, Tyler Ianuzi, Brandi Kelly, Jaelle LaGuerre, Riley Mahan, and Gretchen Martino) all have their standout moments too. Riley Mahan take on Mark's Mom is highly memorable. Jaelle LaGuerre's killer solo on the classic "Season of Love" is filled with passion. Tyler Ianuzi also delivers spot on performances in numerous roles.

The big ensemble numbers such as "Rent", "Seasons of Love," "La Vie Boheme," "Will I?," "Good-bye Love," showcase the incredible talent, intoxicating energy, and effortless chemistry of this amazing company.

Redhouse Arts Center production of Jonathan Larson's RENT is a without a doubt an unmissable must-see. Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody's direction has raised the bar high for the rest of the season at Redhouse. A Broadway worthy production of RENT is now happening at the Redhouse in Syracuse, New York.

Running time: Approximately two hours and forty minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.

RENT runs through September 29, 2019 at the Redhouse Arts Center in Syracuse, New York. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions at the Redhouse Arts Center, call 315.362.2785 or click here.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley