Company Theatre's second show of their 31st season is "Rent". "Rent" is 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 base on Giacomo Puccini's opera "La Boheme" which premiered in 1896. The musical centers on a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York's Alphabet City in the last days of the Bohemian East Village, under the shadow of AIDS. "Rent" 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 and the show follows their lives for a whole year, mixing comic and poignant moments together into a rousing musical masterpiece about life and acceptance and the joy of creating things together. Its powerful message resonates to this day and is not only poignant but joyous and life affirming, too. Directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman pick the best cast to perform in this show with expert musical direction by Michael Joseph, energetic dance numbers by Sally Ashton Forrest and they are rewarded by laughter, tears and thunderous applause at the curtain call.
Zoe and Jordie are well known for directing epic shows at Company Theatre and this show is just one more feather in their cap. They had 90 people audition for 16 roles in this show. Zoe and Jordie block each scene perfectly, making the show flow along all night long. Zoe and James Valentin designed the set for the show. Michael Joseph taught over 30 musical numbers in this show. The harmonic balance and blend of voices is outstanding with the group numbers "Rent", "Another Day", "Santa Fe", La Vie Boheme and "Seasons of Love" leading the pack. He plays lead keyboards, leading his five piece combo on stage. Sally supplies the marvelous dance numbers for the show including modern, jazz, tango with "Santa Fe" dance, "La Vie Boheme" and 1960's style dance as standouts. Bob Grazioso and his crew built a two story New York building set with spiral staircase while Michael Clark Wonson creates the fantastic lighting for this topnotch production and Jennifer Spagone creates the colorful costumes for the cast.The powerhouse film at the end of the show was created by Michael Hammond who is also a fantastic actor and director/choreographer. The film is emotionally draining as is this whole splendid show.
The two leading men in this show are unbelievably multi-talented with Ken Bayliss as Roger Davis and Joel Maki is Mark Cohen. Roger is an HIV-positive musician who is recovering from heroin addiction and is Mark's roommate. Ken 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" as he thinks Mimi is dying in Act 2, "Light My Candle", "I Should Tell You" and the show stopping duet he sings with Mimi as Angel dies onstage. There isn't a dry eye in the audience at the end of their rendition. Ken recently played the comic part of the Jester in "Once Upon a Matress", showing he is adept at funny roles as well as dramatic ones. Mark Cohen is a struggling filmmaker who creates a final movie which details his friends lives and their journeys during the show. Joel recently toured in the professional company of "Hairspray" but was in Company Theatre's first version of "Footloose" and commuted from NYC for the rehearsals. He has an excellent baritone voice which grips the audience with its power in his many numbers and is fantastic actor who narrates the many scenes poignantly. Joel'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, "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.Joel has a comic duet "Tango Maureen" with his ex-girlfriend's lesbian lover where they execute a perfect tango. Bravo to both these performers on doing a superb job in these two demanding roles
The villainous landlord, Benjamin Coffin 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 John King. He plays this smarmy creature beautifully, showing off his tenor voice in "Tune Up", "Rent" and "Goodbye Love". I last reviewed John as the comical Mitch in "Spelling Bee" which shows he can handle both comic and dramatic roles with ease. Joe Rucker as Tom Collins and Shawn Verrier as Angel Dumott Schunard are terrific in their roles. Tom is a professor of computer science and anarchist with AIDS who finds love with Angel, a street drummer who strives to spread his surprising optimism amongst his friends. Joe uses his magnificent bass voice to tug at your heartstrings in his fabulous solo "I'll Cover You" which is sung at Angel's funeral. He sings this song as a duet with Shawn earlier in the show and they also sing "You Okay Honey". Joe also sings the lead in "Santa Fe" with a mellow sound and has a solo in "Seasons of Love". I last reviewed Joe in "Big River" at Company in 2004. The character of Angel is a drag queen and is one of the most likeable characters in the show. Shawn is fantastic in this role especially in his death scene which tears your heart out at its dramatic impact. Angel also bumps off Benny's dog which is funny moment in the show. All of his interactions with the rest of the cast are topnotch and his vocal prowess is heard in all of his solos, duets and group numbers, too. He has an awesome falsetto, too. Mimi, an HIV-positive S&M dancer and heroin junkie who used to date Benny and is now Roger's love interest is sensationally played by Charisse Shields. She was chosen out of 100 women who auditioned for this role, is as sexy as hell as Mimi and she knocks your socks off in her duets with Ken especially the poignant song "Without You" and her solo "Out Tonight" stops the show with her powerful rendition and she dances up a storm on the second level of the set during it. Charisse does a dynamite job as this drug addicted character. The two lesbian characters, Joanne, a Harvard educated lawyer and Maureen, a performance artist who is also Marc's ex-girlfriend are wonderfully played by Sara Seals and Jenn Kenneally. Sara, a pretty blonde, makes Joanne, a brassy broad who takes no crap from anyone especially Marc and Maureen. Her duet with Joel while they tango together is hilarious while her duet with Jenn, "Take Me of Leave Me" when the girls break up is gut-wrenching. Jenn has many dramatic moments 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, taken from "Hey Diddle, Diddle" and has the audience yell out Moo at the close of this scene. She moons Benny during the closing song of Act 1 which is hilarious.and it lightens up the upcoming somber events of Act 2. The most well known song of this show opens the second act with the whole chorus' harmonies soaring in it. Tracy Silva's powerful voice solos during it and she sells the best known song of this show "Season's of Love". I have reviewed Tracy many times including "Ragtime" and "Showboat" at Company and she always delivers stunning vocals all the time. The whole show is breathtaking and powerful with its impact on the audience. Kudos to everyone involved in this dynamite show which boasts Broadway style performances and production values.