I’m going to start by saying that if you have never seen RENT (on stage that is, the Chris Columbus 2006 movie version does not count) run, don’t walk, or at least take the connective corridor to the Syracuse Stage and get tickets to see it. It’s selling out fast and it’s something anyone who has at least some interest in the theatre should see at least once. If you have been living under a straight, white, measure-your-life-in-love-less rock since 1996 and haven’t heard of RENT, do yourself a favor and learn about it here.
As someone who has seen RENT on Broadway more times than I’m willing to admit, traveled a couple of times to see the tour and some how embarrassingly made it on to the bonus features of the DVD it’s an understatement to say I was nervous about how this co-production featuring both equity (unionized) actors and SU Drama students would turn out. Luckily I was not disappointed.
The set designed by Troy Hourie paid tribute to the original 1996 Broadway look featuring metal platforms, stairs, and a brick-a-brack Christmas tree while enhancing certain details like the inclusion of Mark and Roger’s “illegal wood-burning stovel it’s exhaust pipe crawls up to a skylight,” which was left to the audience’s imaginations at the Nederlander Theater, RENT’s Broadway home for 12 years. The costumes, designed by Jessica Ford, were also more embellished than the ones seen on Broadway (which were created using pieces of the original cast members’ own wardrobes.) These costumes really brought to life the grungy feel of the early 90s east village, where the musical takes place. That being said, I did miss Roger’s plaid pants and Mark’s blue and white striped scarf that has become a symbol of the character.
Of course to complement the look of the show was the talent on the stage. I was most impressed by Hannah Shankman’s Maureen. I had heard Shankman’s (excuse the cliché) voice of gold when she was in the revival of HAIR, but her rendition of Over the Moon left me in awe. Her counter-part Joanne, played by Rashidra Scott also impressed me and I was far from disappointed by their number, Take Me or Leave Me. Rashidra also rocked the high note in the solo of Seasons of Love, which is usually given to the actress in Mrs. Jefferson’s track.
Jené Hernandez played a convincing Mimi, exuding the confidence and sass that I believe was written into the role but not many actresses who have played the part convey. At the same time she embodied the naïveté that a nineteen-year-old in her circumstance would possess. It was easy to sympathize with her.
I was slightly disappointed by Stanley Bahorek’s Mark Cohen, the narrator of the show. While his character was lovable and he definitely hit all the notes, it seemed as though he was playing the role as more of a caricature which is difficult when everybody else is real and raw. However, in retrospect that choice does make sense for Mark who Roger accuses of hiding from his own true feelings.
Also impressive or, as I overheard some patrons of the show declare, most impressive were the student cast which includes: Ross Baum, LilyAnn Carlson, John Duff, Aisling Halpin, Mary Claire King, Katie LaMark, Sammy Lopez, Mia Michelle McClain, Matthew Hazen McGuire, Eric Meyers, and Marcela Pereira. I was most impressed with McClain’s portrayal of Mrs. Jefferson, Blanket Lady, and Coat Vendor.
Despite some major sound problems which were distracting to those familiar with the show and probably more irksome for those who don’t, all in all I’d say it was a success and I can’t wait to go see it again.
Oh, and of course the signature drink at the after party, the Tom Collins (get it, like the character) was certainly a nice treat.
Rent runs January 18 – February 13th at Syracuse Stage. Dates and times are located here. Call the box office for tickets: 315-443-3275
~ Amelia Bienstock