Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Rent"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Encore Theatre's current production 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 based 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. 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 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 touching but joyous and life affirming, too. Director Alfred Fortier III picks the best 18 member cast to play these roles. He is aided in his huge task by musical director Jeff Kimball and choreographer Meaghan Bruneault. The film by Fred delivers a powerhouse close to the show. If you have one show to see this spring, it should be "Rent".

Fred blocks each scene wonderfully and elicits stunning performances from his cast. Fred and Paul Perry built a two story set and Fred moves his cast over every inch of the set, creating fantastic picture postcard moments. Jeff taught over 30 musical numbers in this show. He not only leads the 5 piece combo but plays lead keyboards. Jeff obtains gorgeous vocals with "Rent", "Another Day", "Santa Fe", "La Vie Boheme" and "Seasons of Love" leading the pack. He also used an interesting and inventive warm up mantra for the cast. Meaghan supplies the topnotch dance numbers including modern, jazz, tango, Mimi's sexy dance, the Santa Fe dance and "La Vie Boheme" dance to mention a few of them. The multi-talented leading men in this show are Matthew Royality-Lindman as Roger Davis and Brendan Duquette as Mark Cohen. Roger is an HIV-positive musician who is recovering from heroin addiction and is Mark's roommate.Matt is a topnotch actor with a splendid 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 which leaves everyone in the audience in tears. Mark Cohen is a struggling filmmaker who creates a final movie which details his friends lives and their journeys during the show. Brendan has a terrific tenor voice which grips the audience with its power in his many numbers and is a fantastic actor who narrates the many scenes poignantly. Brendan's numbers include group songs "Tune Up", "Rent", "La Vie Boheme", "Happy New Year", "Halloween" and the powerful 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. Brendan has a comic duet "Tango Maureen" with his ex-girlfriends's lesbian lover where they execute a perfect tango.

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 Brad Kirton. He plays this smarmy creature beautifully, showing off his singing voice in "Tune Up", "Rent" and "Goodbye Love". Michael Harrison as Tom Collins and Antonio Rodrigues as Angel are marvelous 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. Michael is very impressive in this role and he uses his strong baritone voice to tug at your heartstrings in his solo "I'll Cover You" which is sung at Angel's funeral. He sings this duet with Antonio earlier in the show with superb harmony and they also sing "You Okay Honey". Michael also sings the lead in "Santa Fe" and does three part harmony on it with Matt and Brendan in the second act. The character of Angel is a drag queen and is one of the most likeable characters in the show. Antonio is fabulous in this role especially in his death scene which tears your heart out at its dramatic impact. He also has a funny moment in the show where Angel admits he bumped off Benny's pesky dog. Antonio's interactions with the rest of the cast are topnotch and his vocal prowess is astounding, too. Mimi , an HIV-positive S&M dancer and heroin junkie who used to date Benny and is now Roger's love interest is excellently played by Amanda Palmer. She is a gorgeous brunette, is very sexy in this role and sings beautifully in her duets with Matthew especially the poignant song "Without You", "Goodbye Love", and her solo "Out Tonight'' where she dances up a storm while delivering a powerful rendition of the song.

The two lesbian characters, Joanne, a Harvard educated lawyer and Maureen, a performance artist who is also Mark's ex-girlfriend are beautifully played by Hilary Gothberg and Allison St. Rock. Hilary makes Joanne, a brassy broad who takes no crap from anyone especially Mark and Maureen. Her duet with Matt while they tango together is very comical while her duet with Allison "Take Me of Leave Me" when the girls break up is gut wrenching. Allison, a statuesque red head, has many dramatic moments in the second act 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 the scene. Maureen moons Benny during the closing song of Act 1 which is hilarious, lightening up the somber events of Act 2. The most well known song of this show "Seasons of Love" opens Act 2. The whole chorus' harmonies soar in it with Nicole Franklin doing a powerful vocal solo during it. The whole show is breathtaking with its impact on the audience and there won't be a dry eye in the house. Kudos to all the performers in this show and a word of praise to stage manager Erin Boucher and her crew who keep things running smoothly all night long. So for a fantastic version of "Rent" be sure to catch it at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket. It will definitely tug at your heartstrings.

"Rent" (6 & 7 May)
@ 28 Monument Square Main Street, WOONSOCKET RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide