Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Rent"

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note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth

SSU's "Rent"
A Stirring Experience

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

The word is out - big time - about Salem State University’s fantastic production of Jonathan Larson’s multi-award winning musical “Rent”. The popular pop opera ends this weekend, and tickets are selling out fast for the 1,000+-seat Mainstage Auditorium, where packed, multi-generational audiences delivered exuberant standing ovations last weekend.

Jonathan Larson’s resounding music, lyrics and play about struggling young artists and musicians in New York City’s Lower East Side, who are battling homelessness, drugs, AIDs, and more in 1989, evokes every emotion - love, sadness, loss, excitement. It’s even more hard-hitting to realize that Larson died at age 35 of an aortic aneurysm a day before “Rent’s” off-Broadway debut. The multi-award winning hit show was the eighth longest-running show on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, the 1996 Drama League Award for Best Musical; the 1996 Theatre World Awards; and 1996 Obie Awards.

Larson was a trend-setter in musical theater, setting the stage for many new-style performers and shows. Audiences of this beloved pop opera are unaware that Larson closely paralleled his masterpiece to Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme,” the story of struggling artists and writers in Paris.

As always, Salem State director/theater coordinator David Allen George has inspired this large cast, crew and six musicians, (located just off stage right), drawing on their talent and energetic enthusiasm, to create a show that rivals any large-scale, professional production.

Graduating student Andrew T. Mattox II is riveting, his acting superb, in the key role of struggling musician, Roger, who wants to write his one big song before he dies - and he does. Mattox’s voice soars in all of his solos and duets, especially in the lovely, thematic duet “Light My Candle” with Mimi ( dramatically portrayed by Katelyn Beaudoin) in Act I; “What You Own,” his dueling duet with roommate Mark, (nicely portrayed by Christopher Boyajian) and his hit song, “Your Eyes,” both in the second act.

This entire cast is enjoyable, but Jenney Dale as activist-turned-lesbian Maureen (she’s being replaced by Meaghan Cook this week), Abigail Roy as Maureen’s pragmatic lover, Joanne, and Michael Russo as philosophy teacher, Tom Collins, who falls in love with drag queen, Angel, are outstanding. So are the dynamic special effects of sound designer Stuart Grieve and lighting designer Whitney “Whizz” White, Jane Hillier-Walkowiak’s costumes, and James Fallon’s multi-level, movable set.

The rousing finale spontaneously rises the audience to its feet, clapping rhythmically and happily. Don’t miss it

BOX INFO: Two-act pop opera, book, music, lyrics by Jonathan Larson, directed by theater coordinator David Allen George; musical direction by Trent Bagley, appearing April 14-16, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday. April 17, at 2 p.m. at Salem State University’s (SSU) Mainstage, 352 Lafayette St., Salem. Tickets: $20; students, seniors, $15; SSU students with IDs, free. Call 978-542-7555 or visit

7 - 17 April
@ 352 Lafayette Street, SALEM MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide