"Rent" - A Review
Theatre companies around the country have been dreaming of the day that Rent would be available to community theatre groups. The day finally arrived, and one of the first community groups in the country to stage the show is the Charleston Light Opera Guild.
And what a fantastic production they've put together! It doesn't feel right to call it a "community theatre production," because in every sense, it's a professional theatre production.
Rent is a groundbreaking Broadway musical production that follows the lives of eight young artists in New York's East Village who are struggling to find their voices and their place in the world. It's a dark story at times, tackling issues such as AIDS and drug addiction, and it's certainly adult in nature (both in language and situations), but it's ultimately an uplifting tale of love and friendship.
It features a great rock score, brought to life by an outstanding, all-star cast and a terrific orchestra.
The cast is loaded with talent! Roger (played by Ryan Hardiman) is a talented musician who's a recovering addict, trying to get his career going again. He shares an apartment in a dilapidated building with Mark (Christopher E. Conard), a young filmmaker who is torn between his desire to be an independent filmmaker and the lure of a high-paying commercial job. He's also still getting over his break-up with Maureen (Mara Stewart) who's an eccentric performance artist now involved with Joanne (Nakeila Killing).
Roger falls for Mimi (Beth Winkler Bowden), a performer with demons of her own. Mimi used to date Benny (D'laontie Lewis), who owns the building, and is friends with Roger and Mark. Also living in the building is Angel (Nathan Mohebbi), who lives up to his - or her - name by saving Tom Collins (Michael Anthony Barnes), another friend of Roger and Mark.
If it seems a little confusing, don't worry, the show clears it up. The story follows a year in the life of these friends, as they face the joys and sorrows life has to offer.
The songs take all shapes - from deeply moving to lewd and lively and very funny, and the cast is loaded with amazing singers. In Hardiman they have the guy I consider to be one of our best performers and certainly one of (if not the) best singers - a terrific talent! Conard is the central figure in the production, and he does an excellent job guiding us through events, and he's also a strong performer. Barnes leads one of the most heart-wrenching songs in the show, and does it with a powerful voice. Bowden also turns in a thrilling performance, one that would push any actor to the limit, and she does an amazing job.
I don't want to leave anyone out - the entire cast is wonderful - but I have to give special kudos to Mohebbi, who plays the show's most outrageous and beloved character, and does it all with great assurance and skill. Hey, just being able to dance and leap across the stage in those heels is amazing, and he also turns in a terrific performance and almost steals the show.
Hats off to the directors for tackling such a challenging production and creating such an outstanding show. The set designer / technical director is Tom Pasinetti, and he and his tech crew have assembled a set that is functional, perfect for the show and never gets in the way of the performance. Technically it must be a very difficult show to manage, and they do a great job. The tech guys are the unsung heroes in any show, and they deserve a lot of credit here.
The musical director is Bobby Hodges, Jr., and he's done an amazing job, getting the most out of the performances by the actors and the orchestra. Kudos also to accompanist Mark Scarpelli, who heads up a terrific orchestra.
Nina Denton Pasinetti manages to wears the hats of both the Artistic Director and the Choreographer, and has done a great job with both. My wife Jeanette was raving about the show's choreography afterward, and I agree with her completely - the dancing was outstanding. I was also very impressed with the staging and the performances in the show - like I said, this was a professional production in every way.
It's rare to see this kind of top-notch production and this much talent in one show. Keep in mind that it's an adult show with mature themes, but I give it my highest recommendation!
After seeing the show (and this is my first time seeing it on stage), it's easy to see why Rent has such a rabid and growing group of fans. It's a powerful, moving story with great characters and wonderful songs. Add to that the experience of seeing it live on stage with such a talented cast, and you can see why it's one of Broadway's top shows of all time. Don't let the chance to catch this one pass you by!
Rent runs at 8 p.m. tonight and Sunday at 3 p.m., and at 8 p.m. Aug. 6 through 8 at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theatre. Tickets are reserved at $20 each and may be picked up in person at the Little Theatre box office Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. or by calling 304-343-2287.