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HOME-GROWN PRODUCTION OF “RENT” SCORES BIG | Review by Robert W. McDowell

HOME-GROWN PRODUCTION OF “RENT” SCORES BIG, DESPITE OPENING-NIGHT SOUND PROBLEMS

RENT COMING RALEIGH AMPHITHEATREDespite 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).

Paul Teal

Paul Teal

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.

William Day One Tree Hill Rent Broadway Series South

William Day One Tree Hill Rent Broadway Series South

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.

TICKETS: $25-$35.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews

2 Responses

  1. I would like to point out that to attack the sound department was both undignified and misguided.

    First and foremost, I was at this performance Friday night and the biggest problem with the show was not the sound, it was the lighting. I’m surprised you could tell who was singing, I could see next to no one and this makes me wonder how you were able to make the undeserved, gratuitous comments upon the performances. More than half of the show was in the dark, It was not avant-garde, it was poor lighting technique.
    Secondly, to make the statements about William Day’s performance in a positive light is either a result of bribery, a lapse into your personal fandom, or due to deafness. Day’s vocals would make nails on a chalk board sound like Beethoven’s 5th. The man needs some honey or a lesson in singing from the diaphragm. Butchering his love ballad “One Song: Glory” was the end of my hopes for him as a performer.
    To resume my point upon the assault of the sound department; if you wish to make a proper bashing of them make more than one example of the faults. To choose only one portion of poor sound quality sounds as if you’re targeting a specific person, or just finding something to pick fun at. You’re pathos is mixing with your logos, and the concoction is a very poor shade of green.
    I make the accusation of your picking fun at Brian L. Hunt due to the choice of example you selected to hash the Audio employees; that and a very poor use of diction. The point that “sets the show’s plot in motion” is a very slight dialog detail, which is further explained in the title song “RENT.” To use such an infantile phrase, “pony up” shows the shortcoming of your underinflated verbosity. Tracy Byrd’s vocal ability is limited, to say the least. Byrd stutters and is weak vocally. Benny should not be portrayed as weak, nor poorly spoken. To address the “snatches” you heard of Benny speaking, those were the points when he spoke instead of mumbled.
    All points considered, I would ask you to take the place of Brian L. Hunt. To sit in his chair and take the mixing of the show into your own hands and tell me, and the rest of your–maybe ten–readers, the outcome of your experience. I’ll be highly embarrassed if you can pull off an eighth of what his crew can do.

  2. I was at a performance of the show on July 9, and, while I had issues with the sound design at times, I was very satisfied with the performance. I am very deeply familiar with the show, so perhaps I made up mentally for lapses in audio quality, but the characters delivered by the crew were great. I would have gone back.