Theatre Mirror Reviews - "RENT"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone



”RENT”

Reviewed by Tony Annicone



The summer show of Ivoryton Playhouse is the 20th Anniversary production of "Rent", a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson. It opened on Broadway on April 29, 1996 and is based on Giacomo Puccini's opera "La Boheme" which premiered in 1896. This musical centers on a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to create and survive in New York's Alphabet City in the last days of the Bohemian East Village, under the shadow of AIDS. The show is considered revolutionary for bringing controversial topics and counterculture to a traditionally conservative medium, and is credited with increasing the popularity of musical theater in the younger generation like the musical "Hair" spoke to the young people of the 1960's. "Rent" begins as Mark, a filmmaker and narrator of the show, decides to begin shooting an unscripted documentary about his friends on Christmas Eve. The show follows their lives for a whole year, mixing comic and poignant moments together into a rousing musical masterpiece about life, acceptance and the joy of creating things together. Its powerful message resonates to this day and is not only touching but joyous and life affirming, too. Director Jacqui Hubbard picks the best 15 member cast to play these roles. She is aided in this huge task by music director Michael Morris and choreographer Todd Underwood. The film delivers a strong close to the show. If you have one show to catch this summer season, it should be "Rent" at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Jacqui blocks each scene excellently and elicits fabulous performances from her 15 member cast. Michael Morris taught the cast over 40 musical numbers in this show. The harmonic blend and balance of the voices is outstanding with the group numbers "Rent", "Another Day", "Santa Fe", "La Vie Boheme" and "Seasons of Love" leading the way. He also plays lead keyboards while directing his five piece combo. Todd Underwood supplies the marvelous dance numbers which include modern, jazz, tango with the "Santa Fe", "La Vie Boheme" and 1960's style dance as the standouts. The two story set is by Martin Scott Marchitto while the costumes are by Lisa Bebey.

The two leading men in this show are multitalented with Johnny Newcomb as Roger Davis and Tim Russell as Mark Cohen. Roger is an HIV-positive musician who is recovering from heroin addiction and is Mark's roommate. Johnny is a fabulous actor with a terrific tenor voice which soars in his many musical solos, duets and group numbers. Some of them include "One Song Glory" about Roger's desperate need to write one great song before he dies of AIDS, "Your Eyes" is Roger's song as he thinks Mimi is dying in Act 2, "Light My Candle", "I Should Tell You" and "Without You", the show stopping duet he sings with Mimi as Angel dies onstage. There isn't a dry eye left in the entire audience at the end of their rendition. Mark Cohen is a struggling filmmaker who creates a final movie which details his friends lives and their journeys during the show. Tim has an phenomenal baritone voice which grips the audience with its power in his many numbers and is a fantastic actor as he narrates the many scenes poignantly. Tim's numerous songs include group numbers "Tune Up", "Rent", "La Vie Boheme", "Happy New Year", "Halloween" and the powerhouse duet that stops the show with its intensity. That number is "What You Own" where Roger and Mark have an epiphany as Roger finally finds his song in Mimi and Mark finds his film in Angel's memory. has a comic song "Tango Maureen" with his ex-girlfriend's lesbian lover while they execute a perfect tango during it. Bravo to both these performers on doing a superb job in these demanding roles.

The villainous landlord, Benjamin Collins III who turns off the heat and electricity trying to turn Alphabet City from an artistic community into a technical based one is portrayed by Collin L. Howard. He plays this smarmy character beautifully, displaying his tenor voice in "Tune Up", "Rent" and "Goodbye Love." Ilast reviewed Collin in "Showboat" at the Shubert Theatre in Boston in July. Patrick Clanton as Tom Collins and Jonny Cortes as Angel Dumott Schunard are marvelous in their roles. Tom is a professor of computer science and is an anarchist with AIDS who finds love with Angel, a street drummer who strives to spread his surprising optimism amongst his friends. Patrick uses his magnificent bass voice to tug at your heartstrings in "I'll Cover You" which he sings at Angel's funeral. He sings this duet with Angel earlier in the show and they also sing "You Okay Honey?" He also sings lead in "Santa Fe" with a mellow sound and I last reviewed Patrick in "Sister Act" at NSMT. The character of Angel is a drag queen and is one of the most likeable characters in this show. Jonny is fantastic in this role especially in the death scene which tears your heart out at its dramatic impact. Angel also bumps off Benny's dog which is a funny moment in this dramatic musical. All of his interactions with the rest of the cast are topnotch and his vocal prowess especially a fabulous falsetto are heard in his solos, duets and in the group numbers, too.

Alyssa Gomez is dynamite as Mimi, an HIV positive S&M dancer and heroin junkie who used to date Benny but is now Roger's love interest. She is sexy as hell as Mimi and she knocks your socks off with her two duets with Johnny especially the poignant "Without You." Alyssa's solo "Out Tonight" stops the show with her powerful rendition and she dances up a storm during it. She is excellent as this drug addicted character. The two lesbian characters, Joanne, a Harvard educated lawyer and Maureen, a performance artist who is also Mark's ex-girlfriend are excellently played by Maritza Bostic and Stephanie Genito. Maritza makes Joanne, a brassy broad who takes no crap from anyone especially Mark and Maureen. Her duet with Tim is hilarious while her duet with Stephanie, "Take Me or Leave Me", is gut wrenching. I last reviewed Maritza as Red Riding Hood in "Into the Woods" at Lyric Company in Boston in 2014. Stephanie has many dramatic moments especially in Angel's death scene but she is a hoot in her solo "Over the Moon" which is a thinly veiled criticism of Benny, using a metaphor involving a cow and a bulldog which is taken from Hey Diddle Diddle. Maureen has the audience yell Moo at the end of it. At the end of Act 1 during the closing number, she moons Benny which lightens up the mood for the somber events of Act 2. The most well known song of the show "Seasons of Love" opens the second act with the harmonies of the chorus soaring to the rafters of the theatre. Sheniqua Trotman's powerful voice solos during this song. I last reviewed her in "Chicago" here as Mama Morton. The whole show is powerful and breathtaking with its impact on the audience. Run do not walk to the box office for this sensational musical. Tell them Tony sent. This review marks my 1500th review and what a terrific way to celebrate it with this powerhouse version of "Rent" at the historic Ivoryton Playhouse.

RENT (3 to 28 August)
Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT
1(860)767-7318 or www.ivorytonplayhouse.org




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