BWW Reviews: ChicabaRENT Wows in an All-Encompassing Interactive Experience

BWW Reviews: ChicabaRENT Wows in an All-Encompassing Interactive Experience

ChicabaRENT/produced by Creating Arts Studios/written & directed by Shannon Sukovaty/musical direction by Dan Sugi/choreographed by Julia Lisa/CAC Studios/thru May 2, 2015

In ChicabaRENT, director/writer Shannon Sukovaty creates a clever mash-up of Chicago, Cabaret and Rent in a non-stop, in-your-face attack on your senses. Sukovaty weaves a witty narrative, cherry picking songs from the three hit musicals to tell the story of a speakeasy under constant threats of being busted for bootlegging and being evicted for non-payment of rent. Rent's bohemia fit right in with the decadent of Cabaret's Kit Kat Club and Momma Morton's gals from Chicago.

One's interactive experience actually begins when ordering your ticket. Don't forget to get your password to get in the door. You might want to dress in some speakeasy attire for a free drink. With address in hand, you drive to a non-descript building on a non-descript, non-commercial street. Look for a small red carpet. No marquee in sight. After your passworded entry and check-in, you're escorted through the lobby curtains and transported into a 1920's speakeasy outfitted with an upright piano, bar stools, flashing colored lights and a 5x5 (maybe 6x6) dance floor in the room's center.

Pre-show, various cast members (already in their fish-nets or gangster drag) flirt, toy and entertain the waiting nightclub patrons. Flapper Claire Montgomery leisurely strolls through Kit Kat serenading the crowd, sometimes BWW Reviews: ChicabaRENT Wows in an All-Encompassing Interactive Experienceaccompanied by her own ukulele, sometimes by pianist/guitarist Monte Montgomery. Kat Steffens (by now dolled up as her chorus gal Texas) charms, tunefully warbles "Someone to Watch Over Me," and adeptly blows her trumpet. And then the actual show begins.

This high-octane-energized troupe of 21 talented performers utilize the entire room as their stage, with the audience (seated in their midst) pulled in to interact with them more than frequently. Kudos to Julia Lisa's very fun, sometimes very intricate choreography (especially Chicago's "Cell Block Tango") which all of the cast nimbly execute full-out within inches of the spectators' faces.

Director Sukovaty keeps the pace at lightning speed with only the bare minimum interstitial dialogue connecting the great songs. Vocal harmonies in this show's second to none with a surround sound of glorious voices. Maybe with better miking (it was opening night), solos would fare just as well. Not always easy to project (without a mike) and hit the right notes.

Everyone does gets their individual moments to shine. Dan Sugi, also the show's musical director, seizes the stage as Cabaret's Emcee more than filling out his suspendered costume. Exhibiting his charismatic hosting talents throughout the two-and-half-hour show, Sugi's vocals get their spotlight in "I Don't Care Much," a wonderfully staged number with all the girls encircling and grabbing at him.

BWW Reviews: ChicabaRENT Wows in an All-Encompassing Interactive ExperienceLee Marshall's sturdy baritone's put to great use in both Chicago's Billy Flynn's "All I Care About" and as Rent's Benny. Marshall's comic timing's for all to see in Chicago's "Reach for the Gun" with Elizabeth DelloRusso's Roxy Hart as the ideal puppet on his knee. Slick staging has Marshall and DelloRusso naturally moving quarter turns for this 360 degrees performance in the round.

Katie Self dominates as Chicago's Velma Kelly as she must in her commanding "All That Jazz."

Giana Teresa gets to shine as Chicago's Momma Morton's Bitch in "Don't Tell Mama/When You're Good to Mama," only to be slightly upstaged by an opening night glitch. Standing back-to-back, Sukovaty's knitted shawl gets caught on a jewel on the back of Teresa's dress. After a subtle attempt to disconnect themselves, Sukovaty's Momma Morton just casually tosses the ends of her shawl over Teresa's shoulders behind her. Without missing a beat, Teresa starts working the shawl as if it was originally part of her costume. Bravo to both for smoothly handling the accidental blip and not letting the audience know it even happened.

Rent's most inventive re-imagining has the alluring Rocio Lopez as Mimi and Max Lichtig as Roger in a comic version of the love ballad "Light My Candle." Then fiery Lopez turns up her vamping, seducing Roger in "Out Tonight." Hot! Lopez gets to make full comic use of her spanish-spoutings in this number and in "Cell Block Tango." Too funny!

BWW Reviews: ChicabaRENT Wows in an All-Encompassing Interactive ExperienceRounding out the Rent cast of characters- Nicholas Rubando has lots of fun as drag savior Angel, Nathan Ondracek idealistic as Mark Cohen, Kenni Kinsey hysterical as "performing artist" Maureen and Hadiyyah Smith stern as her always arguing girlfriend JoAnne. Brad Adams essays Tom Collins, but really makes an impression of making no impression in Chicago's "Mr. Cellophane." Nice!

Cassandra White does a strong, un-vulnerable take on Sally Bowes' "Cabaret."

Samantha Bussard, choreographer Lisa, Jack Stroud and Maxwell Peters round out the supporting, but essential speakeasy molls and gangster roles.

Props for ending a wild, crazy evening with a group ballad- albeit a very strong, well-sung Rent's "Seasons of Love."

Come to this ChicabaRENT. You will be willkommen-ed!

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