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BWW Review: Weathervane Not Afraid of Finding Alternate Ways to Pay RENT

Photo by Chad DiBlasio

How do you write a song when the chords sound wrong
Though they once sounded right and rare?
When the notes are sour
Where is the power you once had to ignite the air?

-- "Rent" from RENT

When it first came out in 1996, Jonathan Larson's RENT took Broadway by storm because its rock score, gritty characters and edgy lyrics made it sound anything but typical.

It's hard to believe that is close to being 20 years ago. The challenge the Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Street in Newark, Ohio) faced in bringing back the musical is the audience's familiarity with RENT has worn down some of the show's rough edges. RENT opened June 4 and will run through June 13.

Director Adam Karsten, however, tweaked his theatre's performance just enough to give a new feel to the show without losing its original power.

RENT, which won the Pulitzer Prize and four Tony Awards when it was first released in 1996, follows the year in the lives of a handful of starving artists living in the squalor of New York City's East Side.

Struggling filmmaker Mark Cohen (played by Layne Roate) documents the lives of his roommate Roger Davis (Joe Essig), a once-promising rock front man who has been diagnosed with AIDS, and a host of eclectic friends trying to survive. Davis and Cohen live in a dilapidated building owned by Benjamin Coffin III (E.J. King), who plans on turning the building to a cyber-arts studio. The friction among his friends and the environment around their building provides Cohen with a vast plethora of material with which to work.

Roate and Essig provide a strong punch-counter punch vocally for the two's confrontations like "Tune Up A" and "What You Own." In a nice Weathervane touch, Essig plays Roger with more bravado. He occasionally flips over chairs and sofas and the overturned furniture becomes part of the set design in the next scene.

RENT needs several strong characters to fill out the dimensions of the story. Weathervane has put together a solid cast with strong performers in the roles of Tom Collins (William Tipton), Mimi (Tori Palin), and Angel (Kirk Lydell). Tipton's achingly powerful reprise of "I'll Cover You" is one of the top individual performances of the show. The strained relationship between Maureen Johnson (Katrina Colletti) and Joanne Jefferson (Iris Beaumier) comes off beautifully in songs like "Take Me Or Leave Me." Colletti's over the top "Over the Moon" and Beaumier and Roate's "Tango Maureen" are among the show's highlights.

However at its core, RENT is only as strong as depth. The cast numbers "Seasons of Love," "Will I" and "Goodbye Love" are the support beams of the two act musical. If they don't hold together, the show collapses. The supporting cast of Travis Burch, Emily Crawford, Kaitlin Descutner, Brendan Henderson, Nick McQuillen, Kerbie Minor, Josh Schirtzinger and Kayla Walsh and the band of keyboardists Kevin Wines, Tony Richardson and Brian Naille, guitarist Benson Anderson, bassist Cole Rumora and drummer William Blount provide the robust foundation for the show.

Karsten also adds some new touches to the show, changing up "Contact" and "Your Eyes," with the latter shocking RENT purists. The performances should draw in those who have never seen the show and the added twists should bring back those who have seen RENT before.

Weathervane Playhouse presents RENT 8 p.m. June 5-6 and 9-13 with a 2 p.m. matinee June 6. Call 740-366-4616 for information.

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