Now, this is a touchy show that tends to rub a lot of people the wrong way. It was clear that there were many people in the audience (myself included) who felt very uncomfortable during parts of the show, but it's message is strong, and these kids did a fantastic job bringing the New York Bohemians to life.
The Show: The school edition of the show I find very tastefully done. They keep almost all of the music with the exception of one song (which wasn't great to begin with) and they nip and tuck parts in other songs. But the best thing about the show is the language is largely reduced. It certainly isn't eradicated and I would've appreciated them doing a little more, but I suppose I can't really complain too much. It is a bit strange seeing teen-age strippers, cross dressers, homosexuals, but those who frequent highschool productions can overcome this awkwardness pretty soon, so it's less of a big deal.
The Production: I honestly had no clue what to expect driving to the show. When we arrived at the theater I was a bit wary because of the size of the lobby, but the posters on the walls boasting some of the impressive shows that they have done helped to put me at ease. The program did even more to ease my qualms. They had assembled an impressive cast including kids from Pebblebrook Highschool, Masters Academy of Fine Arts, Paideia School, North Springs Highschool, and several other institutions with impressive drama programs. Having read the program cover to cover before we were allowed into the actual theater (over achieving homeschooler strikes again!) I was thrilled to see what the cast could deliver. Unfortunately, my look inside the theater supported my previous doubts. The stage was too small, there weren't enough entrances/exits, and the few set pieces they had made the stage look crowded. I'm afraid that this was quite a hindrance to the cast during the entire show. It couldn't be quite as big as the show called for. My other production note is a critique of the costume designer. The first thing one notices about the costumes is that they are a bit revealing. A little tight here, a little low there, with a bit too much skin showing over here; all in all, it just makes the whole "highschool" thing even more uncomfortable. Although this slightly disappointed me, I wasn't surprised. The essence of the show often calls for that kind of costuming at least in some parts of the show (granted they used it more than I would've liked, but what are you going to do). The thing that really disappointed me was how much they strayed from the standard. There are many visual things about the show that are simply iconic! Mark's scarf, Angel's "Santa" dress, Collin's trench coat, Maureen's catsuit, all of these are in every production of RENT I've ever seen pictures of. All though they kept a few of these iconic costumes consistent, they skimped on many of them. The biggest shock was the costume of Collins.
Sad right? I mean, how could you mess something like that up? But, other than the costumes and the small stage, the production side of the show was pretty cool. They had some neat video clips they played during the show (including live feeds from Mark's camera) and the lighting and sound board seemed to work fine.
The Ensemble: Although the show rode on the backs of a few extremely talented leads (to be discussed later), the ensemble did their job. They kept the energy high, and they successfully worked the little room that they had. As a unit the cast seemed strong, and they helped to translate the power of the show. Unfortunately, the orchestra couldn't quite live up to this power. The small auditorium did not lend itself to the overstimulating mood of the show. Even when the cast was belting up there with the best of them, the orchestra (a keyboard, guitar, and a drum-kit) couldn't rise to the occasion. Although this was a bit disappointing and occasionally kept me from being completely engrossed in the show, the ensemble made it an enjoyable experience once I was. Their big songs (particularly Seasons of Love, Rent, & Will I) were executed beautifully.
Specific Cast Members: In every show there are always a few actors who stand out. If you have a good casting director, these actors/actresses tend to get the lead roles, but not always. These are some of the highs and lows of RENT's casting director:
- Marcus R. (Collins) - THIS GUY WAS THE BEST! After reading his bio and seeing some of the things he had done (I almost saw him in a show a few years back) I was excited to see what he would bring, and he didn't dissapoint. He was obviously strong from his first moment, but I wasn't in awe until I heard him sing Santa Fe (one of my favorite performances of the night). I'll Cover You (reprise) was a little less powerful than the original (If you hear the song you'll realize no mere mortal can sing that song like the original guy did), but Marcus stuck to his strength and didn't leave his range, so it sounded controlled and sweet. Although his powerhouse songs were practically flawless, I enjoyed watching him in his smaller songs even more. Songs like La Vie Boheme and Finale A let him be a fantastic background actor. His chemistry with the rest of the cast was heartwarming and I was just so excited every time he came on stage because I knew the show was about to be that much better. He was definitely the most talented guy in the show and he's going on to do great things! (good job casting director).
- Sara G. (Mimi) - She needs to be mentioned. I've actually seen Rent (school edition) twice, and both times the cast made my like Mimi. I honestly don't like the character. Her songs aren't as good as many of the other ones in the show, her costume is always among the most awkward of the cast, and I always go into the show not really expecting to like her bits of the show. But, as it happens, she is possibly the closest thing to a female lead in the show, so every time they have someone insanely talented playing her; this case was no different. She delivered the role with great energy and was possibly the most in tune with her character as anyone in the show. Although I'm still not a big fan of her songs, I am a fan of Sara's performance, she was right for the role and it was done masterfully (casting director: 2 points).
- Evan N. (Mark) - I love the character of Mark, and was pretty much just hoping that he wouldn't mess it up, and he did great! He captured the essence of the character wonderfully, and his voice, though not amazing, certainly sufficed. He always hit every note and nailed every line. He also had some of the funniest body language, he was certainly able to draw a laugh from the audience on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately, although Mark is the best character, he's not a particularly difficult one. His songs aren't impossible to sing, so he generally doesn't blow anyone away. That's why, although no mistakes were made, he doesn't quite make the "amazing list".
- Luna M. (Joanne) - I really liked her. She was honestly one of the first performers to catch my eye. I absolutely loved her (and Mark) in Tango Maureen. That song was very possibly the best moment in the show; they delivered that so wonderfully, and found a way to make it their own. Later in the show (in songs like La Vie Boheme & Take Me or Leave Me) she seemed to get kind of drowned out by some of the louder characters. I was disappointed because I was hoping for more, but I suppose that's as much a staging fluke as an acting one, so it's not really all her fault.
- Gil E. (Benny) - I liked this guy the first time I saw him. Unfortunately, his role doesn't really showcase his talents all that much, he kind of had a very similar expression throughout the entire show. That being said, he played this expression very well. He didn't really capture your attention, but you felt genuinely content when the spotlight was on him and you thought to yourself "ahh, they're letting him sing...good for him, he's doing a good job". I think that he probably should've had a bigger role, but there weren't really any in this particular show that would fit him (ok casting director...we'll call this one a draw).
- Joe A. (Roger) - It's not really his fault. Adam Pascal set an unbelievably high standard, and this guy just couldn't quite live up to it. His voice was ok, but the role of Roger calls for a voice that has power. He needs to be able to belt high notes and have emotion seep out of his body. When I saw the show the last time with highschoolers, I felt like their Roger captured this better. As I said, I couldn't do it either, but I felt like he just brought down some of the scenes he was in. He was a good actor, and had good chemistry with Mimi, so if the singing wasn't too hard he did well, but his big songs (particularly One Song Glory) kind of left a lot to be desired.
- Kristen E. (Maureen) - I suppose this is a matter of taste. Her acting and singing were fantastic, I just didn't like her portrayal of the character. She was far more more suggestive than I think the character called for. It made her character seem shallow, and (as my sister said) "I kinda cringed when she came on stage". Once again, this is not saying that she is a bad actor, just that she made (in my opinion) a bad choice. Her Maureen wasn't as fun or deep as some of the others I've seen. I've never been a huge fan of the character anyway, so it didn't bring down the show much, but I thought that this should be pointed out.
- Jordan J. (Angel) - Once again, he had a pretty impossible job. I was nervous from the very beginning, because he had an unusual body type for Angel. He was a pretty buff guy. All the angels I've ever seen have been toned: strong, but slender. I think that was part of the reason he didn't really get into the character, but I think most of it is that it's just a really tough character. You could always tell that he was a bit uncomfortable (as most people who play the role would be). He only had one or two "moves" that he used in Today For You, so it seemed pretty repetitive. He also kept tugging at his wig and stuff and just looked generally awkward a lot of the time. Once again, that isn't completely his fault; he too had big shoes to follow because Wilson Heredia (the original Angel) was the sole member of the cast to win a Tony for their role.
- There were a lot of ensemble roles that stood out too. Katie W (Seasons of Love Soloist) was just fantastic! Her voice was so strong, I really felt like she deserved a bigger role. She just brought so much power to that song and to I'll Cover You (reprise).
- Katie H. (Alexi Darling) - SHE WAS HYSTERICAL! The role is funny anyway, but her facial expressions and singing were spot on. She occasionally used different inflections than I would've chosen, but it didn't take away at all, she still did a superb job and I always smiled when she came on stage.
- Evelyn I. (Mark's mom) - Another funny character. She was a bit shaky when she did her first solo (Voicemail #1) but I think she hit her stride later on, and she quickly became one of my favorites. She too made her role so much fun and she certainly needs to be commended.
- Tara F. (She had several roles) - Tara was just a really good ensemble member. She was a solo dancer in a few songs (One Song Glory, Tango Maureen etc.) and, since I know some dancers, I knew that what she was doing wasn't easy. But even when she wasn't in the spotlight she was a great ensemble member who I looked for because I knew she would carry whatever role she had well.
Anyway, that's about it. All in all I was impressed with the show. As I said, I can't say I've ever seen a show I didn't like and this one was no different. I certainly will now have ACT3 Productions on my radar, and hopefully will get to go see some more of their shows in the future. If you want to see one of their coming shows here's a link: http://www.act3productions.org/current.html