Also see John's review of Godspell
The Lake Worth Playhouse presents the rock musical Rent, featuring a book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson. Based on the opera La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini, Rent tells the story of a group of young artists and musicians struggling to survive on New York's Lower East Side. The characters in Rent live a richly Bohemian life style on the edge of poverty in Alphabet City. They search for themselves, for artistic success, and for love, while the height of the AIDS epidemic rages around them. Its contemporary rock style and forthright handling of volatile subject matter put Rent on the cutting edge in 1996, and turned-on an entire generation to a new face of American musical theatre.
Rent had its first staged reading at the New York Theatre Workshop in March of 1993. It had a limited, three week engagement in 1994 at the same theatre, with more workshops to follow. Its official Off-Broadway opening was on January 25, 1996. The show was a huge success and won a Pulitzer Prize. Due to its popularity, and the need for a larger theater, Rent moved to Broadway's Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. The Broadway production was nominated for ten Tony awards in 1996, winning for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. Rent closed on September 7, 2008, after 5,124 performances.
Jonathan Larson received the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical, the 1994 Richard Rodgers Award for and twice received The Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation's Commendation Award for Rent. He was granted the Stephen Sondheim Award from the American Music Theatre Festival in 1989 for his contributions to the musical Sitting on the Edge of the Future, and the Richard Rodgers Development Grant for his rock musical Superbia. In addition to scoring and song-writing for "Sesame Street," he created music for children's book cassettes, including Steven Spielberg's "An American Tail" and "Land Before Time." The day before Rent had its Off-Broadway premiere, Larson died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm on January 25, 1996 just ten days before his 36th birthday.
The characters in Rent are less sympathetic than those in La Boheme as they seem to have chosen their impoverished plight, and thumb their noses at their financial responsibilities. They steal even their utilities, and celebrate their refusal to pay this year's or next year's rent. They also participate in, and/or surround themselves with people who participate in unsafe activities, such as drug abuse and unprotected sex. We are asked to understand and excuse their behavior as the impulsive indiscretions of youth.
The scaled-down size of the band for this production serves the script well. Overuse of blaring guitars and percussion would only make the singers sing louder, and their words harder to understand. Shane Blanford as Roger wisely holds back on some of his sound, resisting the urge to scream his way through songs such as "One Song Glory." It adds musical sensitivity to Roger that matches the nature of the character. Blanford's performance is one of the strongest in this production as he remains anchored and present. Joey DeChello does a nice job as Mark, but is in need of a firmer commitment to the character. His singing voice is on the small side and, unfortunately, he was plagued with microphone issues on the night attended. He also wanders a bit flat on occasion when singing harmony such as in his duet "What You Own" with Blanford. Robert Martes is wonderful as Angel. Angel is the loving heart of Rent, and Martes' portrayal of the character is delightful and sweet. On the night attended he also had microphone problems, but was still able to be heard.
Ashlley Rodriquez does a good job acting the difficult role of Mimi. She has the tough, troubled and sexy part of the role down. She is not completely up to the role vocally, however, and tends to sing under pitch when singing forte. The song "Out Tonight" falls short of the mark as she lacks dynamic range and intensity. Scattered performances vary in their degree of polish. C.C. Currie rises beautifully to the occasion vocally in the featured solo in "Seasons of Love," and Deshon Allen has some stilted, over-acted moments as Benny. Gregory Johnson sings heartbreakingly in the reprise of "I'll Cover You"; along with the final "No Day Like Today", it is one of the best moments in the show.
Lake Worth Playhouse's production of Rent is well directed and staged. Following the simultaneously running storylines is surprisingly easy in a show that can be quite confusing. Though perhaps lacking in hugeness of sound, it is well acted and presented.
This production of Rent will be appearing at the Lake Worth Playhouse through July 31, 2010. The theatre is located at 713 Lake Ave. in Lake Worth, Florida. The Lake Worth Playhouse is a Resident Community Playhouse. Performance times are Thursdays, Fridays at 8:00 PM Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00 PM. For tickets and/or more information about the theatre and its programs, you may contact them by phone at 561-586-6410 or online at www.lakeworthplayhouse.org.