Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rent (Playhouse Square Center)


Art is representative of the era from which it comes. By looking at the artistic productions of any time period, whether it be theatre, dance, painting, sculpture, film, or music, you get a glimpse of what the attitudes, beliefs, political and social movements were in vogue at the time.

In theatre, for example, the beat generation had ‘HAIR,’ an anti-war, anti-establishment musical. It represented the attitudes of a changing world and started a trend to use the musical as a vehicle to examine society. It was an anti-war, anti-establishment, break the rules snapshot. The production included nudity, long hair, and other against-the traditional-grain attitudes.

The millennium generation has ‘RENT.’ It stakes out territories that were in “vogue” about ten years ago and carry over to today. Issues include AIDS, drug addiction, homosexuality, transexualism, the plight of the homeless, and the search for purpose. Though some of the issues are presently in a different state, such as the development of the medical cocktail to treat those with AIDS, thus cutting down the number who die from the disease, the impact of ‘RENT’ can still be felt.

‘RENT’ has a star-crossed history. Jonathan Larson, who wrote the book, music and lyrics never lived to see his show open on Broadway. Larson died of an aortic aneurysm on January 25, 1996, 19 days before his musical had its world premiere. It is ironic that when the cast was rehearsing "What You Own," the rousing second act song about dying, Larson collapsed and was whisked away in an ambulance. He later told friends that he couldn't believe that the last burst of music he would hear might be his own song about dying. It was!

‘RENT,’ an updating of the opera, ‘LA BOHEME, has been to Cleveland five times. Each visit has been met with sold-out houses. This particular production is starting a seven month tour in Cleveland and if opening night is any indication, it will also bring in the greenbacks.

The cast members are mainly professional theatre “newbies,” recent college grads with little or no Broadway experience. In contrast to shows that are greatly dependent upon in-depth character development and extremely high level acting, ‘RENT’ is more a show of singing and developing illusions.

The strongest performance contributions were made by Jed Resnick (Mark), Bryce Tyness (Roger), Tracy McDowell (Maureen) and Altamiece Carolyn Ballard (lead woman singer/bag lady). Disappointing were Arianda Fernandez (Mimi) who often sang flat and failed to develop a clear characterization in a very pivotal role, Ano Okera (Angel) who failed to consistently develop this choice part, and Warren G. Nolan who emotionally “walked through” the role of Collins. Okera and Nolan, Jr. (Collins) showed no interactive physical chemistry, even feigning their kissing scenes.

As the band conductor came onto stage opening night, a great roar was heard. It was probably from young Clevelander Jared Stein’s family and friends. Stein not only conducts with dynamism, but plays keyboard and is responsible for the musical blends of the cast. He generally did a great job, though at times the musical sounds drowned out the voices of the singers. Because of the music volume, potential attenders who are not familiar will the lyrics to the songs, should listen to the original cast c.d. or they will miss much of the story.

Capsule judgment: On opening night the mostly young audience gave the show a standing ovation They screamed with delight at such songs as “Seasons of Love,” “Without You,” “LaVie Boheme/I Should Tell You,” and “Will I?” Whether you like this musical may well be a generational thing, but, that is one of the points of the show.