Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
The curtain is up when the audience enters the theatre and one is immediately confronted by Martin Scott Marchitto's set, which manages to pay tribute to the original Broadway scenic design without being a copy of it. The costumes by Lisa Bebey and the incisive lighting design by Marcus Abbott similarly evoke the spirit of the original production while offering fresh aspects that help bring this musical to life. Indeed, the look the designers have conjured up on the Ivoryton Playhouse stage provides the perfect springboard for the young actors to shine.
In the role of Mimi Marquez, Alyssa V. Gomez is simply wonderful and she performs her big numbers, particularly "Out Tonight," spectacularly. She also brings a vulnerability to the character that is extremely touching. Tim Russell makes for a superb Mark, the character who acts as a sort of narrator in the show and this actor also manages to provide the rock solid center of the musical. The handsome Johnny Newcomb is good as Roger, yet one could wish that his voice was a little stronger (to be fair, Newcomb could have been having an off-night at the performance I attended). Still, this actor rises beautifully to the emotions in the final scene.
In other roles, Stephanie Genito is a quirky and funny Maureen, the role originated by Idina Menzel, and she finds laughs and idiosyncratic moments that, in my experience, I have never quite seen before. It also helps that Genito is a strong singer and her combative duet with her girlfriend Joanne (a stunning Maritza Bostic) in the second act, "Take Me or Leave Me," is a knockout.
Still, perhaps the most poignant pair in this production of Rent is the teaming up of Patrick Clanton and Jonny Cortes as, respectively, Collins and Angel. Cortes is a splendid Angel, looking great in the character's range of stylish outfits, and he also brings a lot of heart to the show. Similarly, Patrick Clanton is terrific as Collins, with his solo version of "I'll Cover You" being one of the most moving and passionate moments in the musical.
In the somewhat unsympathetic role of Benny, Collin L. Howard is excellent, and the rest of the company of actors, who all seamlessly play multiple parts, is equally fine. Overall, the entire cast in Rent have the voices to put Jonathan Larson's score over magnificently. It also helps that the orchestra, led by music director Michael Morris, is pretty fabulous.
Director Jacqueline Hubbard, working with choreographer Todd Underwood, keeps the stage teaming with life, helping to fill the show with both humor and heartache. As stated, this production, in general, is reminiscent of the original Broadway show and yet finds new and significant moments that feel entirely fresh.
It is indeed a compliment to say that this production of Rent, in its own way, is nearly as powerful and revelatory an experience as it was when I first saw this musical in 1996. It's kind of amazing to think that twenty years have gone by since the original, and it's interesting to ponder exactly how old the performers at Ivoryton Playhouse were when this work initially premiered. Rent, at Ivoryton Playhouse, is both a tribute to the quality of Jonathan Larson's work (particularly the beauty of his score) and a celebration of how vibrant and vital these feelings remain in this current jewel of a production.
Rent continues at Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through August 28, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.