The Colonial Theatre presents Rent by Jonathan Larson; directed by Michael Greif.
"I'm looking for baggage that goes with mine."
Roger and Mark with Mimi and Collins; photo supplied
The Colonial Theatre has opened with a BANG with a touring production of the Broadway musical, RENT, here for eight performances (six to go as of this writing). While not the most appropriate choice to open a new venue - unless you consider that their own principal chore now is to pay the monthlies, this contemporary take on Puccini's opera LA BOHEME does make a deep impression about the theater itself: it was created for live performance and for theater - to be specific. Once this show departs to continue on its national tour this particular theater will not be giving us any theater again for the foreseeable future.
Rent tells the story of two friends, Roger (a dynamic and exciting performance by Bryce Ryness) and Mark (Rudolpho and Marcello) who share an illegal artists loft in the East Village of New York just before the turn of the previous century. Roger has AIDS and Mark does not. Both have lost their girlfriends - Roger's a suicide and Mark's a neo-Lesbian. From the Christmas Eve of act one to the Christmas Eve of Act Two they both find something to hold on to, as do their closest friends Tom Collins and Angel Schunard (Colline and Schaunard) who find one another. Jonathan Larson, in his contemporary updates of the 19th century novel and opera, turns a few tables in the tale and makes a few blunders along the way. Mimi, the girl Roger finds, is not nearly as sympathetic a character as her namesake. She is a drug-addicted whore whose death seems inevitable from her first entrance. Even the use of Puccini's music to underscore her death scene doesn't quite bring on the expected tears and the dramatic turn-around doesn't produce any either. Nor a laugh.
Thankfully the story of Angel and Collins, the former a drag-queen, replaces the poignant love story of the original and her death, also from AIDS complications, is touching and effective. In fact the entire sequence beginning with the "Happy New Year/Take Me or Leave Me" songs through Angel's funeral is generally moving and certainly worth the price of a ticket, especially as performed by these attractive and talented young performers in the touring company.
Behind all of the rock music, the shabby clothing, the trendy use of gay, lesbian, interracial relationships - all living "La Vie Boheme" - and the rest of the trappings is the deeply-seeded concept of the temporariness of life, its easily wasted attributes and possibilities. Everyone throws away something and everybody is looking for an answer, a solution, a relationship to tide them over to the next rejection, the upcoming holiday time when discarding aspects of their lives will give them something elusive and undefined. "You can't buy love, but you can rent it," they sing. And they mean it.
This ensemble company play together brilliantly. There's not one performance to critique and point an accusing finger at, blaming it for turning something fine into something vile. Instead the author takes the blame for whatever seems wrong here; the company works smoothly to invest his ideas with a light that shines through it, illuminating the secrets of vagrant souls. Still there are a few unique and special talents to admire. Ano Okera is a delectable and cherishable Angel. Jed Resnick is a clean and understandable Mark Cohen. Bryce Ryness has the trap role, requiring a negative energy that still polarizes our sympathy; he pulls it off brilliantly. None of these actors has any trouble being heard and understood throughout the show. They perform admirably and beautifully.
Second Act Finale of Rent; photo supplied
Tracy McDowell as Maureen, Ano Okera as Angel, Warren g. Nolan, Jr. as Collins and Chante Carmel Frierson as Joanne; photo supplied
Tracy McDowell makes a major statement with her big solo "Over the Moon" and, with her lover Joanne played by Chante Carmel Frierson, she cements her talent-image with their fire-sparking duet in Act Two "Take Me or Leave Me." The song "Seasons of Love" which has been the stand-alone hit from this show is actually performed that way, as a stand, face front and sing, at the top of the second act by the entire cast. Somehow, in the context of the piece it does not emerge as the finest or the most important piece of music in the score. Mimi and Roger's duet "Another Day" has much stronger content and "What You Own" a philosophy statement piece late in the show for Roger and Mark is a glorious piece of writing, as is "Tango Maureen" sung by Mark and Joanne.
The biggest concern about the show itself is the lyrics. Sometimes effective, sometimes just plain amateurish, they don't match the power of the music and if the miking of the actors is sometimes less than helpful in terms of understanding them, that may well be to the good of the piece. In this theater, where the acoustics are awesome, the miking seemed a bit over-the-top most of the time anyway. Original staging and choreography have been replicated for this tour-version, so what you see is what director Michael Grief and choreographer Marlies Yearby intended.
Rent is making an auspicious occasion, the reopening of this glorious theater after 56 dark years, into a memorable event. I tried out the seats in the second balcony and if you can stand the steep grade all well and good. They're not uncomfortable at all. From the center orchestra, for this show at least, the view is almost perfect and the theater itself is a hands-down winner. Treat yourself to a rent-party evening and see for yourself what this venue could be all about. It could be all about you.
◊ 08-31-06 ◊
Rent plays at the Colonial Theatre, located at 111 South Street in Pittsfield, MA through September 3 only. Tickets are $25-$65. For a schedule of upcoming events or to purchase tickets for this or any other event, contact the box office at 413-997-4444.