Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Rent"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2007 by Tony Annicone

"Rent" School Edition

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Uncommon Theatre's current presentation is "Rent", the school edition , which is performed by their young adult company. It is the regional premiere of this musical which is still running on Broadway. "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. "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 the 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. Director Christa Crewdon chooses the most talented young people to perform in this show and they are rewarded by laughter, tears and thunderous applause, making this one of the must see shows of this or any season. Run do not walk to obtain these tickets. Bravo.

Christa not only casts the show beautifully, she blocks her enormous cast wonderfully by creating tableaus and picture postcard moments for each scene of this show. Musical director Chris Charig not only taught the cast over 30 numbers in this huge score but plays the piano, rhythm guitar and conducts his four piece combo. Choreographer Mathieu Whitman creates the many and intricate dance numbers for this show while playing Benny Coffin, the villainous landlord who turns off the power to Mark and Roger's apartment and wants to sell the building and the lot next door. He gets to show off his powerful voice in the group numbers "Tune Up", "Rent" and "Goodbye Love". Stage manager Val Dotolo keeps things running smoothly all night. The sets and costumes for the show were designed by Jon Grenon, a senior at Wagner College. Superb production values are very evident in every aspect of this show.

The two leading men in this show are fabulous with Kevin Hanley as Roger Davis and David Mizzoni as Mark Cohen. Roger is an HIV-positive musician who is recovering from heroin addiction and is Mark's roommate and Mimi's love interest. Kevin who is a senior at Wagner College, has a tremendous tenor voice which soars in his many solos, duets and group numbers including "One Song Glory" about Roger's desperate need to write one great song before he dies of AIDS, "Your Eyes" which is the song he finally writes as he thinks Mimi is dying in Act 2, "Light My Candle", "I Should Tell You" and "Without You" with Mimi, (Not a dry eye in the house after this latter song which is sung as Angel dies onstage and this duet stops the show with its intensity) and another powerful duet is "What You Own" with David as Mark, where Roger and Mark have an epiphany as he finally finds his song in Mimi and Mark finds his film in Angel's memory. Mark Cohen is a struggling documentary filmmaker who creates a final movie which details his friends lives and journeys throughout the show. David who is a senior at Cranston High School West in RI, has a fantastic voice which soars in his many numbers and is an excellent actor who narrates the many scenes beautifully. He sells numerous songs including group numbers "Tune Up", "Rent", "La Vie Boheme", "Happy New Year", "Halloween" and the powerful duet "What You Own" with Kevin and the comic duet, "Tango Maureen" with his ex-girlfriends lesbian lover. Kudos to both young men on superb performances in demanding roles.

Brandon Grimes and Jake Zentis as Tom Collins and Angel Schunard shine in their roles. Tom is a philosophy teacher and anarchist with AIDS and is Angel's love interest. Brandon who is going to be a freshman at the University of Michigan, possesses a powerful baritone voice which he uses to tug at your heartstrings in his magnificent solo "I'll Cover You" which is sung at Angel's funeral. He also sings it as a duet earlier in the show as well as "You Okay Honey" both with Jake. The character of Angel is a drag queen street percussionist/musician who is one of the most likeable characters in the show. Jake who just finished his senior year at Framingham High School, excels in this role and his interactions with the other characters are right on the money and his death scene is splendid. He gets to show off his voice in the group numbers and duets. Mimi, an HIV-positive S&M dancer and heroin junkie who is Roger's love interest and used to go out with Benny, is wonderfully played by Brittney Santoro, a senior at Cranston High School West. She shows off her strong singing voice in her duets with Kevin especially the tear jerker song "Without You" and her solo "Out Tonight". Brittney's powerful performance as this drug addicted character shines. 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 Kathleen Pierre and Brittney Halls. Kathleen who is a junior at Boston Latin School, makes Joanne a sassy broad who takes no crap from anyone especially Mark and Maureen. Her duet with David while they tango together is hilarious while her duet "Take Me or Leave Me" with Brittney when Joanne and Maureen break up, is stunning. Brittney who will be a freshman at Emerson, is a hoot during her solo called "Over the Moon" which is a thinly veiled criticism of Benny through a metaphor involving a cow and a bulldog, taken from "Hey Diddle Diddle". The most well known song in the show is "Seasons of Love" with Emily Ellett as the lead soloist and she and the whole cast make this into a powerful one. The sound of the whole chorus in each of their numbers is breathtaking and this show boasts Broadway style performances of this whole cast. Kudos to one and all. So for a super fantastic rock opera treat for one and all, be sure to catch "Rent" in Foxboro. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Rent" (19 - 22 July)
UNCOMMON THEATRE
@ Orpheum Theatre, 1 School Street, FOXBORO MA
1 (508) 698-3098

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