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RENT

a Musical
CATEGORY : MUSICAL
by Jonathan Larson

COMPANY : Next Stage Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Next Stage Theatre (@ Children's Garden Playhouse)
ID# 4144

SHOWING : December 02, 2011 - December 19, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Tony & Pulitzer prize winning musical about a group of young bohemians struggling with life & AIDS in the mid-90s.


CAST & CREW LIST
Music Director Ali Gutierrez
Director Rob Hardie
Stage Manager Kathryn Allen
Ensemble Kathryn Allen
Mark Nicholas Crawley
Maureen Danielle Girardou
Mrs. Cohen/Ensemble Emma Harr
Roger Jeremiah Hobbs
Benny Jason-Jamal Ligon
Angel Quintez Rashad
Gordon/Ensemble/Musician Mark W. Schroeder
Joanne Garrika Sonyae
Maureen Emily Stembridge
Ensemble Stephanie N Ward
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

Getting Better EveryTime
by Dedalus
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
4.5
For the third time this year, I found myself at a performance of “Rent,” Jonathan Larson’s ridiculously popular paean to ‘90’s artsy bohemianism. I’ve already written (at length) about how it’s taken me a long time to warm to this show -- 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 having 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.”)

But you know what? Maybe repetition is at the heart of appreciation, because, with every new production, I’m finding myself enjoying it more and more, finding new nooks of pleasure in some of its corners of understated emotional complexity, finding its songs more and more filling my head more often than should be necessary, finding the self-indulgence not so naïve and immature.

And, Rob Hardie and Next Stage Theatre have mounted a production that, though not without its weak spots, has enough energy and compassion and raw talent to overcome most of my preconceived quibbles.

To recap the plot (and to indulge in cut-and-paste “filler” from my prior reviews), 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, and edge-of-poverty desperate moments. This isn’t a youthful “seize the day” idealism, but a “this could be your last day” reality.

There are two strengths that really sold this particular production for me. There is, of course, the directorial style of Mr. Hardie (which I won’t discuss due to the usual bias), but, more central than that is the outstanding cast and production team. With one exception, every actor was perfectly suited to the role and every performance was over-the-top excellent.

It’s hard to select a standout here, but. If forced, I’d have to cite Quintez Rashad’s Angel. Mr. Rashad is a ball of energy with a heart as big is the Triborough Bridge. He ignites the stage with “Today 4 U,” and the affection he displays for EVERYONE in the cast is a driving force for this production. Nicholas Crawley’s Mark, Jeremiah Parker Hobbs’ Roger, Rayshawn Carson’s Tom Collins, Traci Weisberg’s Mimi, and Emily Stembridge’s Maureen were also impressive, creating indelible characters and singing like the pros they soon will be. Only this show’s Joanne was a bit “lost in the shuffle” of the show, flattening “Tango Maureen” a bit (the choreography didn’t help here – shouldn’t this number be, well, an actual tango?). On the other hand, she (and Ms. Stembridge) totally sell “Love me or Leave me,” so the earlier weaknesses do not, in the final analysis, drag down the show.

The action was backed up by a drop-dead-together ensemble and band (props to Ali Guiterrez’ Music Direction), and the overall sound of the show was simply wonderful. Wally Hinds’ set made wonderful use of the shabby ex-Blackwell space, the technical design by Jonathan Liles overcame most of the shortcomings of this venue (still a lot of downstage shadow, but I live in hope that one day this will change). Even John Parker Jr’s choreography (“Tango Maureen” excepted) was over-the-top memorable.

As I said in my earlier reviews this year, 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 4 U,” “Tango: Maureen” “Take me or Leave me,” and “I’ll Cover You” all stick with me.. Even “Without You” is becoming less irritating and clichéd. And, the finale, “No Day but Today,” was is moving and beautiful. And this won’t be the last production I’ll see this year – Children’s Garden Theatre, which owns and operates the Blackwell venue, is opening a teen-cast production after this one closes (using the same set), and I already promised the almost-teen in my house I’d take her to it on New Year’s Eve.

Let’s be clear here. This is a very difficult musical. Next Stage’s production more than does it justice, and it should appeal to the show’s many many fans. Apparently, I’m rapidly becoming one of those fans. 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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