BWW Reviews: No Day But Today To See RENT At SoLuna
I'm always cautious in seeing a regional production of Jonathan Larsen's Rent as I have become a Renthead over the years. The thing to remember is art has different interpretations. SoLuna Studio Artistic Director and Owner Karen Braun fantastically directs and choreographs this slightly reimagined take on Mr. Larson's Tony and Pulitzer winning musical. Running through July 27th, some adjustments were made for SoLuna's vision including an unexpected twist the last moment of the show.
Having a twelve and a half year run on Broadway, the story is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème. It follows the lives of several impoverished East Village NYC artists at the height of the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980's/early 1990's. This is not a happy story, folks.
The ensemble cast includes Jahlil Burke and Andrew Murano as longtime friends Mark and Roger, respectively. Mark is a struggling videographer and also serves as the story's narrator. Mr. Burke is a fine choice to portray Mark - he has a wonderful voice - but at some points seems disconnected from the character. Mark is roommates with Roger, a once successful musician but is struggling to cope with life with HIV and is a recovering drug addict. Mr. Murano, a SoLuna vet, was also a smart choice for the role of Roger. An audience favorite is his heart breaking rendition of the hit "One Song, Glory" where he tells about him wanting to leave a meaningful song after he dies.
Without question, the most overwhelming performance is delivered by John Bagley as Tom Collins. His rendition of the reprise of "I'll Cover You" brings the cast and audience to tears. Additionally, Melody Rodriguez, who portrays Mimi, is a highlight. Mimi is a dancer and junkie who lives downstairs from Mark and Roger's apartment. Oh yeah, and she is the ex of one of their friends, Benny (Jason Donohue). Ms. Rodriquez was spot on with Mimi's hopeful demeanor and put on a terrific performance of "Out Tonight".
Also part of the stellar cast is Nick Caron as Angel Dumott Schunard, Tom Collins' drag queen partner who also has HIV. Mr. Caron was a superb Angel and he makes tears overflow again particularly in act two. Hailey Berkowitz provides the comic relief as Maureen Johnson, a performance artist and Mark's ex-girlfriend as she left Mark for Joanne (Selma Jaber). Ms. Berkowiz was hilariously animated during the protest performance "Over the Moon", opposing the eviction of the homeless from a lot where Benny is hoping to build a studio. Also Ms. Jaber's voice balances well with Ms. Berkowitz for an excellent rendition of "Take Me Or Leave Me".
The rest of the talented cast includes Alicia Bagley, Leanne Gallati, Leighann Martone, Annemarie Levakis, Allie Tamburello, Davina Roberts, Lisa Martine Francois, Sami Jurman, and Randy Rice. Incidentally, the large cast makes great use of space at the intimate Hauppauge, Long Island, venue. For example, for the performance of "Seasons of Love", the cast would typically line up on the front of the stage. For SoLuna's incarnation, the cast lines up in the isles while John Bagley and Alicia Bagley were on the stage for the solo parts of the song. There were also chairs intentionally vacant so the cast could stand on them for the clapping sequence.
And so, there is "no day but today" to see Rent at SoLuna Studio (remember... it runs through July 27th!). Typically, we Rentheads say "Thank You, Jonathan Larson". However, today I am also going to say Thank You, Ms. Braun, wonderful cast, and top notch creative team for a job well done.