SHOWING : November 04, 2011 - November 13, 2011
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Set in the East Village of New York City, RENT SCHOOL EDITION is about falling in love, finding your voice and living for today. Winner of the Tony Award® for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, RENT has become a pop cultural phenomenon with songs that rock and a story that resonates with audiences of all ages.
Based loosely on Puccini's La Boheme, RENT SCHOOL EDITION follows a year in the life of a group of friends struggling to make it in the big city. They include Mark, a filmmaker and the narrator of the story; his former girlfriend, Maureen, a performance artist; Maureen's lover, Joanne, a public interest lawyer; Mark's roommate Roger, a musician; Mimi, an exotic dancer, with whom Roger falls in love; Tom Collins, a computer genius; Collins' lover, Angel, a street musician and drag queen; and Benny, a former member of the group who, after marrying into a wealthy family, has become their landlord. How these young bohemians negotiate their dreams, loves, and conflicts provides the narrative thread to this groundbreaking musical.
This adaptation has been carefully done, working with the Larson estate to retain the dramatic intent of the groundbreaking rock musical, and consists of minimal changes to language and the removal of one song ("Contact") to make it possible for many schools to perform this piece.
Friday, November 4 @8pm
Saturday, November 5 @8pm
Sunday, November 6 @3pm
Thursday, November 10 @8pm
Friday, November 11 @8pm
Saturday, November 12 @8pm
Sunday, Novmeber 13 @3pm
Tickets $23 for adults, $18 for Students/Seniors
Limited reserved seating available for a $5 upcharge
Tickets at www.act3productions.org
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No Day Like Today|
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 ||
I’m not the biggest fan of “Rent,” Jonathan Larson’s iconic paean to ‘90’s artsy bohemianism. I’ve found too many of its songs too forgettable (“Without You” is, without a doubt, one of the blandest love songs ever), and its characters a tad too self-indulgent for my old-fart tastes (the memory of my own youthful self-indulgences has conveniently faded). Plot-wise, I’m not so much irritated by the fake-o “happy ending,” as much as unintentionally amused by its abruptness (coma to full recovery in less than five seconds is, you have to admit, giggle-inducing). Still and all, the score showed a boatload of potential cut short by Mr. Larson’s early death, a potential validated by the release of his earlier work in “Tick, Tick, Boom” (all of which, curiously enough, I find more memorable than any song from “Rent.”)|
All this being said, I did sorta kinda like the movie version, and I did sorta kinda like a number of previous versions mounted on area theatres. I approached this particular production with mixed feelings – I hate (on principle) “School” or “Junior” versions of established musicals, but, I’m usually very impressed with the work coming out of Act 3, particularly its recent MAT-winning “Once on this Island.” I’m happy to report that this production was over-the-top good (with the exception of one unfortunate casting choice, which I’ll discuss later), the “edits” seamless and barely noticeable, and its plot line strangely relevant in the wake of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests of late (as unfocused and heartfelt as all the references in “La Vie Boheme”). There were even some aspects better than all the recent productions I’ve seen.
Mark and Roger are young artists (Mark is a filmmaker, Roger a musician) sharing a loft in an abandoned Alphabet City industrial building. Their former friend (and current landlord), Benny, is threatening to evict them until they come up with some rent, unless they can forestall a planned demonstration in the homeless tent-city next door. The demonstration is being organized by performance artist Maureen, (Mark’s former lover), and her new love interest, Joanne. Another friend, Tom Collins, experiences a brutal beating, and is cared for by a street-drummer/drag-queen named Angel, who becomes the group’s guardian angel. Maureen’s demonstration comes and goes with unexpected results, and we spend Act Two following a year in the lives of this group as they face 525,600 minutes of unexpected successes, failures, deaths, break-ups, and reconciliations.
Loosely based on Puccini’s “La Boheme,” “Rent” trades in Tuberculosis for AIDS, but retains the Bohemian “No Day but Today” seize-the-moment philosophy, celebrating artists’ lives, complete with their idealistic pretentions, and brink-of-poverty day-to-day struggles. The script even keeps the opera’s “Mimi,” making her an exotic dancer junkie in a love/need relationship with Roger. As in the opera, the characters all show multiple levels of affection, need, drive, courage, and disappointment. None of them can be pushed into a convenient stereotype, all of them come alive on stage.
In fact, the “No Day but Today” philosophy is made more urgent here by the play’s AIDS plotline, emphasized in this case by the Director’s notes, describing how AIDS affected her personally. This isn’t a youthful “seize the day” idealism, but a “this could be your last day” reality.
Most of the cast were high school students, showing a skill and range far beyond their years and experience. If Joe Arnotti was years older than his cast-mates, he nevertheless made a Roger who was youthful and compelling, of an age with everyone else. Of the rest, the acting standout was Kristen Edwards’ Maureen, whose Performance piece was a study in appropriate over-the-top scenery-chewing and youthful energy. Sarah Rose Glazer made a painful thin Mimi who showed a remarkable range of emotion and Luna Manela’s Joanne was feisty and an equal partner to Ms. Edwards (she also did a spot-on tango). Evan Newsome gave us a Mark who was a bit bland, but who nevertheless centered the group and gave the cast its needed cohesion.
My biggest cast problem was with the actor playing Angel. From the start, he struck me as someone uncomfortable with the character’s affectations, “playing” (from a distance) outrageousness rather than embodying it. Never once picking up a drumstick, he made “Today for You” an exercise in breathless and frenetic choreography rather than the spontaneous burst of energy it should have been. And, his affectionate scenes with Tom Collins came across as if he were a high school kid afraid of what his buddies would think of him hugging a man.
On the other hand, what really worked here was the overall choreography (by Johnna Mitchell), the musical direction (by Jennifer Loudermilk -- for the first time, I could actually understand the lyrics to “La Vie Boheme”), and a number of choices made by director Patti Mactas. I especially liked the addition of dancers to a few numbers (particularly the “ghost” soloist in “One Song Glory”), using live actors for the telephone voices (though “Alexi Darling” should have changed into a more professional business attire), the use of the rolling scaffolds, and having Angel actually appear as Mimi lay dying – this made one of my least favorite moments work (somewhat – it would have been better of Angel had stayed in character rather than just walking out looking at her, then walking off). Non-standard choices that also worked were putting the cast all over the many levels for “Seasons of Love” and dressing Tom Collins more as a college teacher than as a scruffy homeless guy.
What didn’t work as well as it should have were the “live feeds” of Mark’s filmmaking – most were shot from an angle putting his subjects in the poorest light possible, and, it quickly became apparent the actor wasn’t familiar with the rudiments of frame composition. The video feed during “Living in America” was also distracting, and anachronistic (the play is very specific about being set in the early nineties, and the video clips were generic early eighties to late nineties news clips and movies).
As I said in my review of the Lyric’s production, as familiar as some of this is becoming, I am finding the show more and more enjoyable as time goes on, as it becomes a late-nineties period piece. Numbers like “One Song Glory,” “Light my Candle,” “Today for You,” “Tango: Maureen” “Take me or Leave me,” and “I’ll Cover You” all landed beautifully. Even “Without You” wasn’t as irritating as it usually is for me. And, the finale, “No Day but Today,” was both moving and beautiful.
Let’s be clear here. This is a very difficult musical. Act 3’s production more than does it justice, and it should appeal to the show’s many many fans. That I’m not one of those fans should in no way dissuade you from seeing it. Forget regret, this “Rent” is yours to not miss. And there’s no day like today to not miss it.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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