RENT, Jonathan Larson’s rock version of the opera La Bohème, introduced a new generation of audiences to Broadway. Keegan Theatre continues the tradition of the popular Broadway production by introducing us to a powerful young cast, many hitherto unseen here in professional productions.
RENT is the story of roommates Mark and Roger, who, with their friends, struggle to survive on the lower East side of New York in the 1980’s. They strive for artistic creativity as they face both AIDS and poverty.
Musically, this show is stunning. The tight band, fit into a small box underneath one of the two-story risers of the set, plays the long musical score with energy and vitality, well matched to the energy that bursts onto the stage. John Loughney (as Mark) and Juan Carlos Sanchez (as Roger) set the tone early, leading the cast into the powerful titular song. Edward Daniels, as the ex-roommate Benny, now the one to whom everyone owes the rent, scores with his big number “You’ll See”. And the Act I full-cast finale of “La Vie Bohème” is about as much foot-stomping fun as rock music gets. In the second act, Katie McManus (Joanne) and Weslie Woodley (Maureen) bring down the house as they try to out-diva each other in the duet “Take Me or Leave Me”. The real winner is the audience which gets to witness this showstopper.
The company leads off the second act with RENT’s most well-known number “Seasons of Love”. Here, as in the finale reprise, we get to see the dazzling work of the ensemble. Sanchez and Emily Levey (Mimi) have amazing chemistry as they sing the beautiful duet “Light My Candle”. The hauntingly touching “I Should Tell You” weaves back into the second act to highlight one of the emotional peaks as Mimi struggles at the end. Michael Robinson (Collins) and Parker Drown (Angel) who deliver one of the best depictions of same-sex romances I’ve seen on stage, infuse their duets with well-played emotion, especially with “I’ll Cover You”.
Singled out for special mention: Parker Drown, as Angel, is truly amazing in both his male and female personas and fittingly has the voice of an angel. His first big number “Today 4 U”, which he performs dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus, ups the ante on an already strong production. His illness and death in the second act is one of the most touching scenes in the show and he positively warms the room when he re-appears in the finale. Juan Carlos Sanchez, who anchors the show as Roger, is vivid and charismatic. He has an agile and beautiful rock star voice and infuses his scenes and songs with emotion. Emily Levey touches everyone’s heartstrings as the down and out Mimi. She adds a tenderness to her songs that really enchants. The duets between Mimi and Roger are some of the best musical numbers in the show.
The ensemble is rife with excellent singers. In particular, Julia Fanning and Christopher Mueller both hidden gems in the ensemble, shine when they are featured. Other ensemble members are: MaryLee Adams, Shayna Blass, Mickey Daguiso, Nick Lehan, Carolyn Myers, Christina Sanchez and Dan Van Why.
Directors Mark and Susan Rhea make excellent use of their cast and space. The action and set changes move so smoothly that although, at nearly 3 hours, it is a long show, it doesn’t feel like it. Set designer George Lucas creates a versatile open space multi-level stage that gives the feel of a low-rent New York loft and still leaves excellent sight lines for all the action. The uncredited light design adds depth to the scenes, ambiance to the stage and helps the scene changes transition quickly.
Keegan’s RENT is better than the national tour. There’s plenty of energy onstage, and plenty of energetic response from the audience. Church Street Theatre can be very cool in winter, but don’t let that deter you. This is a don’t miss show, worth wearing an extra layer.
Rent – TOP PICK!
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Musical Arrangements by Steve Skinner
Original Concept and Additional Lyrics by Billy Aronson
Directed by Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea
Musical direction by Aaron Broderick
Produced by Keegan Theatre Company
Reviewed by Ted Ying
RENT plays thru Jan 30, 2010. The run is sold out. Added performance: Jan 31st at 8pm. Tickets are $50. All proceeds benefit the people of Haiti. Details here.