Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Rent"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The opening show of Little Theatre of Fall River's 76th season is "Rent''. The show 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 closed on September 1, 2008, after a 12-year run and 5,124 performances. "Rent" 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 it bringing controversial topics and counterculture to a traditionally conservative medium and is credited with increasing the popularity of musical theater in the younger generation the same way the musical "Hair'' spoke to the young people of the 1960's. The show starts 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 triumphant epic musical. Director Jennifer Bellanti picks the best performers for these 15 roles with topnotch musical direction by Paul Sardinha and energetic dance numbers by Alex Cruz. They are rewarded with laughter, tears and a thunderous standing ovation at the close of the show. This rendition of this powerhouse show makes it the must see show of the autumn season.

Jennifer does a fantastic job with directing and blocking this show. She has his cast use every inch of the two story set. Jen infuses the cast with high energy and plays up the humorous moments in the show to balance out the poignant ones in the second act. She is also a fantastic dancer and choreographer having reviewed her as Cassie in "A Chorus Line". The marvelous dances by Alex include modern, jazz, tango and a very sexy dance for Mimi. He also appears in the show dancing up a storm. I last reviewed him as Paul in "A Chorus Line". Musical director, conducts a 5 piece orchestra and plays lead keyboards for the show. He makes the harmonies of the group numbers soar with this talented cast. Bob Perry designed the set while all the costumes are designed by Aaron Gendreau-Visco. Stage manager John J. Nunes keeps things running smoothly all night long. Also a fabulous curtain speech by John Tavares brings tears to the audience's eyes as he describes the whole cast learning about the homeless and people with AIDS. He says "The true meaning of life is love and there is no day but today".

The two leading men in this show are incredible actors with John Tavares as Roger Davis and Aaron Gendrau-Visco 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. John is awesome as Roger. His powerful tenor voice soars in "One Song Glory" which is his 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" are sung with Mimi. There isn't a dry eye in the house after this last one which is sung as Angel dies onstage and this duet stops the show with its power and intensity. Another powerful duet is "What You Own" with Aaron 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. At times Roger sounds like Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar". I last reviewed John as the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast". Mark Cohen is a struggling documentary filmmaker who creates a final movie which details his friends lives and journeys throughout the show. Aaron is excellent as Mark with his tenor voice soaring in his many numbers and is a tremendous actor who narrates the many scenes wonderfully whether they be comic or touching. His numerous numbers include "Tune Up", "Rent", "La Vie Boheme", "Happy New Year", "Halloween" and the powerful duet "What You Own" with John and the comic duet "Tango Maureen" with his ex-girlfriends lesbian lover, Joanne. Aaron and Amy tango during this comic song. I last reviewed Aaron as Teen Angel in "Grease" this past spring.

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 one is played by Stephen Nowell Jr. He does a great job as this weasel of a character. He shows off his powerful tenor voice in "Tune Up", "Rent" and "Goodbye Love". Stephen's excellent voice is also heard in the solo part of "Seasons of Love". Joe Plozai as Tom Collins and Tyler Indyck as Angel Dumott Schunard are fabulous in their roles. Tom is a professor of computer science and an anarchist with AIDS who finds love with Angel, a street drummer who strives to spread his surprising optimism among his friends. Joe uses his topnotch baritone voice in "Santa Fe" with Aaron and Tyler in fantastic three part harmony and he uses it to move you to tears in his terrific solo "I'll Cover You" that he sings at Angel's funeral. He sings it earlier in the show as a duet with Tyler as well as "You Okay Honey". The character of Angel is a drag queen percussionist/musician who is one of the most likeable characters in this show. Tyler is topnotch as he sings and dances to his solo number "Today for You". Tyler shines in this role and his interactions with the other performers and his death scene are marvelous. He climbs up the two story stairway wrapped in his sheet after his death as the cast sings which is reminiscent of "Les Miserables" death scenes. Angel also has a funny scene where he mentions he killed Benny's noisy dog.

Veronique Thomaes-Sylvia plays Mimi, an HIV-positive S&M dancer and heroin junkie who is Roger's love interest and used to date Benny. She is a stunning brunette who is gut wrenching as Mimi. Veronique shows off her singing voice in her duets with especially the tear jerker song "Without You" and her solo "Out Tonight" where she wears blue spandex pants and does a dynamite sexy dance on the upper level and stairway. She shines 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 marvelously played by Amy Thurston and Melanie Gendreau who both have powerhouse voices. Amy makes Joanne, a sassy broad who doesn't take crap from anyone especially Mark and Maureen. Her duet with Aaron while they tango together is hilarious while her duet "Take Me or Leave" with Melanie when Joanne and Maureen are breaking up is breathtaking. Melanie is a hoot during her solo called "Over the Moon" which is a thinly veiled criticism of Benny using a metaphor of a cow and a bulldog, taken from "Hey, Diddle Diddle". She moons Benny in "La Vie Boheme" the closing song of Act 1 which helps lighten up things before the somber second act. Melanie has an emotional scene at Angel's funeral and when Mimi is thought to be dying. I know Melanie can handle both comedy and drama having reviewed her in "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "A Chorus Line" The most well known song of the show "Seasons of Love" opens the second act with Stephen and Lisa-Lynn Tavares on lead vocals. The choral sound of this show is terrific. So for a fantastic rendition of a contemporary musical, be sure to catch "Rent". Tell them Tony sent you.

"Rent" (7 - 10 October)
@ BBC, 777 Elsbree Street, FALL RIVER MA
1 (508)675-1852

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide