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

Turtle Lane Playhouse's current show 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 together into a triumphant epic musical. Director James Tallach picks the best performers for these 17 roles with topnotch musical direction by Bethany Aiken and energetic dance numbers by Donald Gregorio. They are rewarded with laughter, tears and a thunderous and well deserved standing ovation. This powerful show is stunning in James' presentation, making it the must see show of the spring season.

James does a dynamite job with directing and blocking this show. He has his cast use every inch of the two story set. Other shows I have seen James direct have been "Pippin" in 2005, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "The Producers" last year. He infuses his cast with high energy and plays up the humorous moments in the show to balance out the poignant ones in the second act. The marvelous dances by Donald include modern, jazz, tango and a very sexy dance for Mimi using the upper level and spiral staircase. Musical director, Bethany conducts a 5 piece orchestra and plays lead keyboards for the show. She makes the harmonies of the group numbers soar with this talented cast. John McKenzie and his beautiful wife Michele built and painted the New York set for this show. Costumes are by Richard Itczak and Kimmerie Jones. Stage manager Harry Rothman keeps things running smoothly all night long.

The two leading men in this show are awesome actors with Michael Foley as Roger Davis and Eric Desnoyers 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. Michael is dynamite 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" with Mimi. There isn't a dry eye in the house after this last song 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 Eric 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. I first reviewed Michael as the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast" in 2005. At times Michael sounds like Judas in Superstar. Mark Cohen is a struggling documentary filmmaker who creates a final movie which details his friends lives and journeys throughout the show. Eric Desnoyers is fantastic as Mark with his tenor voice soaring in his many numbers and is also an awesome actor who narrates the many scenes perfectly whether they be comic or touching. His many numbers include "Tune Up", "Rent","La Vie Boheme","Happy New Year", "Halloween" and the powerhouse duet "What You Own with Michael and the comic duet "Tango Maureen" with his ex-girlfriend's lesbian lover, Joanne. Eric and Nella perform an energetic tango during this comic number.

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 played by Bill Toll. He plays this weasel of a character wonderfully. He shows off his tenor voice in "Tune Up", "Rent" and "Goodbye Love". James Casey as Tom Collins and Chris Casello as Angel Dumott Schunard are topnotch 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 among his friends. James uses his wonderful baritone voice which he uses 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 Chris as well as "You Okay Honey". I last reviewed James as Jerry in "Full Monty" which he will be performing in next year at Turtle Lane. The character of Angel is a drag queen percussionist/musician who is one of the most likeable characters in the show. Chris shines in this role and his interactions with the other performers and his death scene are terrific. Angel also has a funny scene where he mentions that he has killed Benny's noisy dog. Samantha Brior-Jones who I first reviewed when she was in "Ragtime" in 2003, 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, statuesque brunette who is gut wrenching as Mimi. Samantha shows off her singing voice in her duets with Michael especially the tear jerker song "Without You" and her solo "Out Tonight'' where she wears a gold spandex pants and does a dynamite sexy dance, executing a split on the table at the end of this number. 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 excellently played by Nella Mupier and Melissa Gates who both have gorgeous voices. Nella makes Joanne, a sassy broad who takes no crap from anyone especially Mark and Maureen. Her duet with Eric while they tango together is hilarious while her duet "Take Me or Leave" with Melissa when Joanne and Maureen are breaking up is breathtaking. Nella also uses her soprano range for a section of "Seasons of Love" which mesmerizes the audience with the power of her voice. Melissa 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 the closing song of Act 1 which helps lighten up things before the somber second act. The most well known song of the show "Seasons of Love" opens the second act with Kira Cowan and Jared Walsh on lead vocals, showing off their awesome voices. The choral sound of this show is stunning. So for a fantastic rendition of this contemporary musical be sure to catch "Rent" at Turtle Lane. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Rent" (14 May - 6 Junr)
@ 283 Melrose Street, NEWTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide