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Rent

a Musical
CATEGORY :
by Jonathan Larson

COMPANY : Atlanta Lyric Theatre
VENUE : The Strand
ID# 4063

SHOWING : June 10, 2011 - June 26, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION


CAST & CREW LIST
Mimi Felicia Boswell
Maureen Alison Brannon
Steve/Ensemble Joseph Brewer
Gordon/Ensemble Jono Davis
Mr. Jefferson/Ensemble Clinton Dillard
Mrs. Jefferson/Ensemble Kayce Grogan-Wallace
Mark Maxim Gukhman
Joanne Kenya Hamilton
Tom Collins Kevin Harry
Roger Stanley Allyn Owen
Angel Adam Carl Peyton
Mrs. Cohen/Ensemble Jas Sams
Benny John Stewart III
Alexi Darling/Ensemble Dasie Thames
Mr. Grey/Ensemble Geoff Uterhardt
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REVIEWS

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Squatters
by Dedalus
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
4.0
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 Kudzu’s stripped down version from last year, so I was actually sorta kinda looking forward to this version just to see if my intense dislike of the original version has lessened over the years. Well, director Alan Kilpatrick has swiped a boatload of design concepts, (well, ALL, the design concepts), from the original and filled the stage with an energetic and talented cast of relative Atlanta unknowns, and, the result was a sorta kinda okay evening at the theatre that didn’t disappoint so much as leave me with a “been there seen that” feeling of déjà vu.

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 Maxim Gukhman as Mark, Stanley Allyn Owen (who looks like Gregg Allmann but sings like a Broadway belter) as Roger and Michael “Kevin” Harry as Tom Collins. On the female side, Felicia Roswell may have been a tad bland for my idea of Mimi, but she was nevertheless lithe and sweet-voiced, Alison Brannon was a tad blondely “too nice” as Maureen, but she still made it work, and Kenya Hamilton’s Joanne was memorable and hit all the right notes at all the right times. As in previous casts, Adam Car Peyton’s Angel was the emotional core of the show, making the contrived nature of this more-angelic-than-thou character actually credible.

The relatively small stage was filled out with a rather large ensemble that made “Seasons of Love” look a bit over-crowded, but otherwise filled the Strand theatre with voice and character. The only musical quibble I had was, as with Kudzu’s production, a bit of messiness in the Act One finale (“La Vie Boheme”) that occasionally let the patter-pontifications fade into slightly mush-mouthed drawl word-soup.

The technical aspects of the show (Set, Sound, Lights) were all up to the Lyric’s usual high standards, and I especially appreciated that the sound design, while suitably loud, was not blood-from-the-eardrums over-the-top loud like the first tour from the nineties.

Still, 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. If Mimi’s last minute “recovery” elicits its usual chuckles, the moments that follow mitigate any disillusionment.

Let’s be clear here. This is a very difficult musical. The Lyric’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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