HOME-GROWN PRODUCTION OF “RENT” SCORES BIG, DESPITE OPENING-NIGHT SOUND PROBLEMS
Despite opening-night sound problems that made much of the dialogue and some of the lyrics inaudible or unintelligible to many audience members, the current home-grown production of RENT, produced by Broadway Series South of Raleigh and City Stage of Wilmington, scored big ups with the first-nighters, thanks to several charismatic characterizations; a soaring multilevel abandoned-warehouse set, designed by Terry Collins for Scenic Asylum; eye-catching grunge-style costumes by Briton Campbell; and exuberant instrumental accompaniment by musical director/conductor Chiaki Ito (keyboards), Rob Hood (keyboards), Trevor Stewart (guitar), Luke Perkins (bass), and Bill Hayes (drums).
This locally produced version of RENT, which plays July 3, 8-10, and 15-17 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, is a rambunctious rendition of Jonathan Larson’s prize-winning rock musical, based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 Italian opera La bohème. RENT won the 1996 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Wilson Jermaine Heredia as 19-year-old gay drag queen with AIDS Angel Dumott Schunard), as well as the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Paul Teal and William Day of the CW network television series “One Tree Hill” receive — and deserve — top billing for their passionate performances as Woody Allen-esque documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen, complete with frizzy hair and horn-rimmed glasses, and his tall and lanky mohawked and bearded best friend and roommate, deeply depressed HIV-positive singer-songwriter and guitarist Roger Davis, respectively. But Amy Tipton as Mark’s former girlfriend, the outrageously uninhibited bisexual performance artist Maureen Johnson, and Brittany Daniels as drug-addicted HIV-positive exotic dancer Mimi Marquez deserve equal billing for their crowd-pleasing portrayals. Indeed, Tipton stole the show.
Joy Gregory is compelling as Maureen’s current girlfriend, somewhat uptight lesbian lawyer and political activist Joanne Jefferson, driven to distraction by Maureen’s constant flirtations with other men and women; and Phillip Lynch tugs at the audience’s heartstrings with his poignant portrayal of gay MIT-educated New York University philosophy professor with AIDS Tom Collins, who finally finds love (“I’ll Cover You”) with the ailing drag queen Angel (Blaine Mowrer).
Sound problems sabotaged several performances, but the chief victims on opening night were Mowrer and Tracy Byrd as Mark and Roger’s one-time friend and current landlord Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III, whose unexpected demand that the boys immediately pony up last year’s rent sets the show’s plot in motion. Their dialogue and vocals could only be heard in snatches.
The sassy musical staging of RENT director Justin Smith of City Stage and choreographer Kevin Lee-y Green injected snap, crackle, and pop into the show’s musical numbers, especially “Rent,” “Light My Candle,” the hilarious “Tango: Maureen,” “Out Tonight,” “Santa Fe,” “Over the Moon,” “La Vie Bohème/I Should Tell You,” “Take Me or Leave Me,” the plaintive “Without You,” and “Goodbye, Love.”
Trusting that the technical difficulties with Brian L. Hunt’s sound design — and its execution — have been resolved by now, I recommend that Triangle audiences give RENT a look and a listen. You’ll be glad you did.
SECOND OPINION: July 2nd Durham, NC INDEPENDENT WEEKLY review by Zach Smith (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/why-are-we-still-watching-rent/Content?oid=1510921; and July 1st Raleigh, NC NEWS & OBSERVER preview: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/07/01/559582/rent-goes-indoors-in-raleigh.html. (To read the Triangle Arts & Entertainment online version of the July 1st TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/07/rent-will-star-paul-teal-as-filmmaker-mark-cohen/.)
Broadway Series South and City Stage present RENT at 8 p.m. July 3, 8-10, and 15-17 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
- BOX OFFICE: Ticketmaster: 800/745-3000, 919/834-4000
- SHOW: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/.
- PRESENTERS: Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/.
- City Stage: http://www.citystageatlevel5.com/.
- VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/. PARKING: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/.
- DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/.
- The Musical: http://www.siteforrent.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=7448 (Internet Broadway Database).
- The Film: http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/rent/index.html (official web site) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0294870/ (Internet Movie Database).
- The Documentary: http://www.thehotticket.net/rent/ (official site).
- Jonathan Larson: http://swirsky.tripod.com/jonathan.html (unofficial site by Chris Matthias), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6927 (Internet Broadway Database).
- “Rent” Webring: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/rent/webring/site/.