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Rent

a Musical
CATEGORY : MUSICAL
by Jonathan Larson

COMPANY : Kudzu Playhouse [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Kudzu Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 3648

SHOWING : February 19, 2010 - March 21, 2010

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The hit musical RENT will be presented by Kudzu Playhouse, the first theatre company in Atlanta, Ga to present the full stage version of Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award- and Pulitizer Prize-winning musical.

RENT is a revolutionary rock opera with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme. It tells the story of one year in the life of friends living in New York City in the 1990s. The story centers around roommates Mark, a struggling filmmaker, and Roger, an HIV-positive musician and former junkie. While a previous tragedy has made Roger numb to life, Mark tries to capture it through his attempts to make a film. In the year that follows, the group deals with love, loss, AIDS, and the power of friendship in this compelling and significant story. RENT is directed by Andy Meeks with musical direction by Spencer Stevens.

Director Andy Meeks starred in the Broadway North American tour of RENT from 2003-2006 as the title character Mark Cohen. “I am keeping the original direction and music that I was fortunate enough to learn and perform from Micheal Grief and Tim Weil (original Broadway director and musical director). This cast is as good as if not better than any Broadway production I’ve seen of the show.”

After seeing more than 100 actors during a two-day open call audition, the artistic team held several rounds of callbacks before making final casting decisions. "We could not be more excited about this cast," says Artistic Director Wally Hinds, "We feel we’ve found the cream of the crop -- a young, vibrant group of actor-singers who are going to breathe new life into this powerful and iconic rock show."


Andy Meeks directs and plays the title role of Mark Cohen, a struggling documentary filmmaker and best friend of Roger Davis, an HIV-positive musician and recovering heroin addict played by Justin Miskin. Takara Clark is Mimi Marquez, an HIV-positive stripper, heroin junkie and Roger’s love interest. Emily Sams plays performance artist Maureen Johnson, Mark’s ex-girlfriend and current girlfriend of Joanne Jefferson, a headstrong lawyer played by Ardale Shepard. Tom Collins, the HIV-positive philosophy teacher and former roommate of Roger, Mark and Maureen is played by Spencer Stevens. Antonio Daza is cast in the role of Angel, an HIV-positive drag queen and Tom Collins’ love interest. Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III, landlord of Mark and Roger’s building, is played by Todd Vaughn. The ensemble comprises Lisa Reich, Cat Lyons, Aretha Burton, Colin Hughey, Eric Bragg, Andy Danh and Charlie Rogers.


RENT will run Friday-Saturday evenings at 8 PM and Sunday evenings at 7 PM at the Kudzu Playhouse in Roswell.


CAST & CREW LIST
Producer Wally Hinds
Director Andy Meeks
Musical Director Spencer G. Stephens
Costume Assistant Amy Kroessig
Costume Designer Jane Kroessig
Stage Manager Anna Pages
Props Designer Karen Rooker
Bass Jeff Boyce
Guitar/Keyboard II Don Keel
Keyboards Kelly Lane
Percussion Jason Sokolic
Gordon/The Man/Mark US Eric Bragg
Seasons of Love Soloist/Mrs. Jefferson Aretha Burton
Mimi Takara Clark
Steve/Restaurant Man Andy Danh
Gordon/The Man US Patrick Hill
Seasons of Love Soloist/Mr. Jefferson Collin Hughey
Alexi Darling/Roger's Mom Cat Lyons
Mark Andy Meeks
Roger Justin Miskin
Paul Charlie Rogers
Maureen Emily Sams
Joanne Ardale Shepard
Tom Collins Spencer G. Stephens
Benny Todd Vaughan
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

I had to see it to believe it.
by Okely Dokely
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
4.5
I have to admit, with no disrespect intended, that not only was I skeptical about the Kudzu Playhouse doing Rent, the "Rent at Kudzu" thing was something of a recurring joke for several years now. Now, in 2010, it's a reality, and while Wally Hinds wasn't playing Angel, nor was Jeannie Hinds playing Mimi (as I used to joke), this was a spectacular production for all to be proud of. I left the theatre perked up and invigorated. Kudzu doesn't have to stay in safe Neil Simon/Steel Magnolias territory all the time - they can do just as well if not better with the Rents and Blood Brotherses they do on occasion.

I'm happy that I finally got to see Andy Meeks in the role that put him on the American musical theatre geek map, since I didn't get to see him when he toured with it in 2004 and 2005 (grin). Not only was he wonderful, but I was impressed with the professionalism and respect that seemed to waft from the performance. Since he's used to playing the role in the national tour, I was afraid his performance would be too "big" for such a small stage, but he was so generous and respectful with the focus. He didn't make himself the star. There was no star. He did a tremendous job - as both actor and director - understanding the concept of "ensemble."

Justin Miskin as Roger was a breath of fresh air after seeing a couple of grumbly-vocaled, roid-raged Rogers in a row. (The less said about Constantine Maroulis as Roger, the better.) Miskin has a baby face, and brought out some of the meek loneliness we rarely see in portrayals of Roger. I appreciated that he could actually play the guitar. My only criticism about him is that his jump up to the unexpected high note of his last "Mimi" in Your Eyes was unnecessary, jarring, and caused some unintended laughter from the audience. But I've always thought Your Eyes was one of the weakest songs in the show. Kind of ironic when you think that it's the song he's been agonizing over for a year. After an incredible buildup, we finally hear it, and it sounds like a B-side at best.

Spencer Stephens as Tom Collins was fine. He seemed a little miscast, but was not bad by any means. He's obviously a tenor trying to James Earl Jones himself into some bass notes, and since he's also the Music Director, some of the songs he was singing in on stage musically fell by the wayside, particularly the first "I'll Cover You." There are tons of awesome 2-part harmonies in the song, most of which were non-existent. Hearing all that unison and missed opportunities was a bit frustrating (and curious).

Takara Clark as Mimi and Antonio Daza as Angel executed some impressive choreography, but got pretty out-of-breath on their respective solos (Out Tonight and Today 4 U). Still they were fun to watch and I wonder how much of that choreo was relayed by Meeks or created by credited choreographer Anna Galt. Great job whoever it was.

I cannot praise Emily Sams as Maureen and Ardale Shepard as Joanne enough, so I won't say much for fear of sounding cliche. But wow wow wow. Probably the best Maureen and Joanne I've ever seen. They had me locked in from the very beginning, and that was the most fierce "Take Me Or Leave Me" ever.

The sound balance was great for the most part, but a warning: if you sit in the right aisle, bring an earplug for your right ear. If you sit on the left aisle (as I did), bring an earplug for your left ear. In other words, try to sit in the middle. I was painfully close to the audience-left vocal speaker. I appreciate that the band played softer when soloists were singing, but in the parts where many people are singing but one person is featured (like Roger's last verse in "Another Day" or Mark's "anyone in the mainstream" bit in "La Vie Boheme), the featured person's mic needs to be bumped up or everyone else bumped down. And if I couldn't hear it being so close to the speaker, then the smart people who sat in the middle definitely couldn't hear it. Also, "Over the Moon" is practically a capella, so there's no need for so much amplification of Emily's vocal. Lastly, they could stand to turn down Eric Bragg's mic just a smidge on all the "Christmas bells are ringing" parts, because when he comes in with his harmony, he's drowning out the first person singing the melody and everyone who comes in after him.

All in all, wonderful production, but it frustrates me that Kudzu doesn't step out of their productive bubble more often, because they CAN do it. And I'm sorry I ever doubted them.

Yo Hindses, could Wicked and Miss Saigon at Kudzu be far behind?

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Would You Light My Stage, Please
by Dedalus
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
3.5
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, so, I was actually looking forward to this version, a stripped-down, smaller-venue remounting that would (or should) provide a better empathic connection to the characters than the too-loud large venue versions ever could. I was not disappointed. Director Andy Meeks and Kudzu Playhouse have assembled a young and energetic cast, and staged the piece with enough invention to make it work. The intimacy works well, and I left with a more positive attitude towards these characters and towards this show.

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.

The principal cast was uniformly good, including understudy Eric Bragg as Mark (although he handled the 16-millimeter camera as if he never held a movie camera in his life). I especially liked Emily Sams’ Maureen, Takara Clark’s Mimi, Antonio Daza’s Angel, and Spencer Stephens’ Tom Collins, all of whom found new aspects to the characters I wasn’t expecting. Ms. Clark, in particular managed to give “Out Tonight” an athleticism that, maybe not as erotic as we may be used to, was still affective and fearless. If I have one quibble with the musical aspects of the show, it was a bit of messiness in the Act One finale (“La Vie Boheme”) that occasionally let the patter-pontifications fade into slightly mush-mouthed drawl.

My chief complaint with this production, though, was with its technical aspects, particularly its lighting. I’m not sure if it was weak design or careless execution, but too much of the show was too dark, even invisible. Too often, the only light was a mis-aimed follow spot that couldn’t hold all characters in a scene. Lights would fade to black for no reason, and stay on when “the power went out” moments come and go. Two follow spots were at audience level, so they tended to cause some bad reflections off the metallic structures of the set (which, by the way, was effective and well done). Talk of moonlight was ignored and everything had a badly-timed, mis-focused look. A follow spot rather than a Special highlighted the telephone answering machine, so anyone in front was unintentionally lit, and the spot often completely missed its target.

Still, I didn’t find this a fatal flaw, since the cast was so uniformly compelling. 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. If Mimi’s last minute “recovery” elicits its usual chuckles, the moments that follow mitigate disillusionment.

Let’s be clear here. This is a very difficult musical. Kudzu’s production 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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Rent - small stage, BIG talent
by mrwright
Monday, March 1, 2010
4.5
The musical started off with a few sound issues that made the first few songs hard to enjoy. But after they corrected the mic levels, it has very hard not to get sucked into this production. The cast is so talented and it is clear they are deserving of a much larger stage - nothing against the Kudzu Playhouse.

The first few songs (Tune Up, Rent, and You Okay Honey) were hard to get in to because of the sound issues. By the time they get to 'One Song Glory', the sound issues were completely forgotten and all the focus was on Roger's (played by Justin Miskin) amazing voice. Some in the audience were criticizing the choice of Miskin to play Roger when he first walked out on stage, but they were shocked into silence once he began singing. By the time the Company began to so skillfully perform 'Life Support', the audience was completely sucked into this story. But 'Life Support' was only a taste of just how great of a job this cast can so perfectly convey the emotions of facing your eventual death at the hands of HIV. Soon after, the audience was again given just a taste of greatness as Mimi (played by Takara Clark) showed her power over the emotions of the audience with her performance of 'Another Day'. Near the end of the first Act, we were treated with a full frontal assault of true awesomeness that is Maureen (played by Emily Sams). The audience erupted in applause and cheering after the best ever performance of 'Over the Moon'. It was a welcomed, light-hearted break from the heavy story. Act 1 ended with an excellent, heart warming, and crowd moving duet by Roger and Mimi of 'I Should Tell You'.

The 2nd Act began with an amazing performance by the Company of 'Seasons of Love' that was nothing less then powerful. Maureen and Joanne (played by Ardale Shepherd) gave a real crowd pleasing performance of 'Take Me or Leave Me' that had most of the audience moving to the beat in their seats. This was followed by the most emotionally moving song of the night - Mimi singing 'Without You'. Looking around the audience, there were very few dry eyes, as Mimi pulled the crowd completely into her heart and did not let go. From that point on, the audience sniffled and cried through the rest of this amazing production. Hard sobbing could be heard in the audience during Collins' (played by Spencer Stephens) performance of 'I'll Cover You: Reprise'. This song was delivered with such beautiful, heart-wrenching pain that it is hard to even write about without tearing up. Act 2 ends with a happy silliness that is much needed.

Walking out of this production, it was clear that despite the small theater (I love Kudzu, but it is tiny), and early sound issues, this cast delivered an amazing performance of Rent that would not be out of place on Broadway. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Rent
by Occasional Theater Patron
Saturday, February 20, 2010
5.0
Goodbye Times Square and Fox Theatre and hello Kudzu Playhouse. I went to the opening of the musical Rent on Friday evening, Feb. 19. Director Andy Meeks and Producer Wally Hinds have brought Rent to Atlanta in a small, intimate setting, which is the way writer Jonathan Larson intended all along from his 1996 opening of Rent at the New York Theater Workshop.

Andy Meeks, who has played lead character Mark Cohen in the North American Broadway Tour from 2003 to 2006, again plays Mark Cohen and directs the show. Andy Meeks stays true to Rent form, from the set design (which is perfect), placement of the orchestra (on stage but to the side), to the dialogue, music, lyrics, and all the nuances of Rent. Even the costumes are true to form, from Mark Cohen's sweater and scarf, Angel Schunard's dress, and Tom Collins' cap.

The acting and singing were perfect. Lead actors Andy Meeks as Mark Cohen, Antonio Daza as Angel Schunard, Spencer Stephens as Tom Collins, and Ardalle Sheperd as Joanne were all wonderful. A special mention to Emily Sams as Maureen, who is actually stronger than the Maureen in the North American Broadway Tour or the movie.

My only critical comment is on the technical side, which I assume the folks at Kudzu will quickly resolve. Sometimes the head mikes, particularly for Mimi and Roger, were not quite working correctly and at times were difficult to hear over the orchestra. The spotlight at times also had a difficult time finding the correct actor.

For those who don't know the Rent story, Wikipedia summarizes it best: "Rent is a rock opera with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohčme. It tells a story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York's Lower East Side in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of AIDS."

Upon the conclusion of the final dress rehearsal in New York, writer Jonathan Larson learned that Rent would receive a favorable review by The New York Times and his life long dream of writing and producing a great American musical was perhaps realized. He went to his N.Y. apartment that night, and suddenly died of undiagnosed aneurysm in his sleep. Jonathan Larson was only 35. Rent went on to the Nederlander Theatre and became the 8th longest running show on Broadway, winner of a Tony Award for Best Musical, and winner of a Pulitzer Prize.

Kudzu's Rent is exceptional, notwithstanding a few opening night technical issues. It should probably have a PG-13 rating due to adult language and themes.

No day but today! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
2003 - 2006? by Okely Dokely
All of the press information for this production states that Andy did the role on tour from '03 to '06. I'm not sure that's right. It definitely wasn't in 2003, because I remember him being cast in 2004. My recollection was he was in the 2004-2005 tour, then came home. Did he continue with the role at all in '06? Can anyone confirm/clarify?

Just curious.


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