REVIEW: Rent (NightBlue)

A “Rent” for the new century

rent

 NightBlue Performing Arts Theatre presents:

Rent

 

Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
co-directed by
Brian LaDuca and David E. Walters
at
Theatre Building Chicago through March 28th (more info)

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Rent – the 1996 rock opera about eight friends struggling to get by in New York’s Lower East Side neighborhood – find’s it’s power in its incredible music. It is the rock solid songs, packed with raw emotion and romantic tragedy that have kept Rent a musical favorite for the last fourteen years. Its success has sparked fascination with its edgy subject matter and the tragic story of its creator, who did not live to see the massive success of his magnum opus. Jonathan Larson, Rent’s author, died of an aortic aneurism the night before its first preview, giving haunting poignancy to the show, whose central message is to revel in the joy of life in the present, because no one knows what the future holds. For many of Rent’s characters, the future looks challenging: AIDS, homelessness, poverty and gender issues are all major themes in this groundbreaking musical.

The question for Rent now is, is it timeless? Will this musical endure as we trudge farther and farther away from the 1990’s? The answer remains to be seen: Rent is less than twenty years old, and it’s hot button issues of HIV/AIDS, homelessness and sexual liberty are as provocative in 2010 as they were when the musical opened. But with it’s decade specific soundtrack and aesthetic, it needs open minded theater-makers to keep it from becoming “Rent: The Totally 90’s Musical!”  It needs companies like NightBlue, whose production of the show is respectful without being tied to the famous original production.

NightBlue’s Rent  is “Rent for 2010”. From it’s paired down set consisting only of a wooden loft and a pay phone, to it’s young, amazingly natural performers, this production looks back from the other side of the millennium, without forgetting how we live now.

rent-poster It’s not common to see performances one would classify as “natural” in musical theater, but the young actors in Rent have taken NightBlue’s mission of “performing naked” to heart (not literally). Especially during Roger’s (played here by perfectly cast Chris Froseth) Act One aria in which he dreams of finding “Glory”, by writing one great song before dying of AIDS. In this version, Roger sits alone and accompanies himself on acoustic guitar, and the effect is powerful and sentimental, void of the uber-90’s power-ballad vibe that plagues the original cast recording. Jonathan Hymen has a laid back, best friend quality that makes him a great pick for Mark, the eyes through which the audience meets the cast of characters. Hymen is especially good during the first act, when Mark’s fun, youthful demeanor is nicely showcased with songs “Rent” and “Tango: Maureen,” a duet with smart actress Whitney White, who’s Joanne is driven and sassy without being overbearing. Playing her love interest, Maureen is the lovely Diane Mair, whose classy version of “Over The Moon” gives depth to a silly song. Act one closer “La Vie Boheme,” misses the mark here, unfortunately. Awkward, cluttered choreography diminishes the impact of this boisterous ode to the life of the artist.

Act Two never entirely recovers from the “La Vie Boheme” energy suck. The actors have worn themselves out by the time it begins, and the production loses energy. There are a few exceptions: the fight song between feuding lovers Maureen and Joanne “Take Me Or Leave Me” manages to be catchy yet full of tension, and Collins’ (played by the almost perfect Brian-Alwyn Newland) touching reprise of “I’ll Cover You.”

Rent has a special meaning in 2010. Healthcare worries, matched with the economic downfall make this musical about extreme poverty and AIDS intriguing. Sadly, Johnathan Larson isn’t here to create new works based upon the current crises; we have to rely on responsible theaters like NightBlue to protect the work he did create. Luckily, co-directors Brian LaDuca and David E. Walters have the sense and talent to protect Rent by making it their own, and thus, making it relevant.

 

Rating: ★★★

Non-Equity Jeff Nominations – Ubique & Lifeline lead

JeffAwards

 

2009 NON-EQUITY JEFF AWARD NOMINEES

PRODUCTION – PLAY
Enchanted April Circle Theatre
In Arabia We’d All Be Kings Steep Theatre
Mariette in EcstasyLifeline Theatre
The Mark of Zorro Lifeline Theatre
Our TownThe Hypocrites
Rose and the Rime The House Theatre

PRODUCTION – MUSICAL OR REVUE
The Christmas SchoonerBailiwick Repertory Theatre
Evita Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
The Robber BridegroomGriffin Theatre
Woody Guthrie’s American Song – Blindfaith Theatre

DIRECTOR – PLAY
Nathan Allen – Rose and the RimeThe House Theatre of Chicago
David CromerOur Town The Hypocrites
Elise Kauzlaric – Mariette in Ecstasy Lifeline Theatre
Joanie Schultz – In Arabia We’d All Be Kings Steep Theatre
Rick Snyder – Men of Tortuga Profiles Theatre

DIRECTOR – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Fred Anzevino – Evita Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Fred Anzevino – Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Mary Beidler Gearen – The Christmas SchoonerBailiwick Repertory Theatre
Paul S. Holmquist – The Robber Bridegroom Griffin Theatre
Nicolas Minas – Woody Guthrie’s American Song – Blindfaith Theatre

ENSEMBLE
Evita Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
In Arabia We’d All Be Kings Steep Theatre
Mariette in Ecstasy Lifeline Theatre
Men of Tortuga Profiles Theatre
Our Bad Magnet Mary-Arrchie Theatre
Woody Guthrie’s American Song – Blindfaith Theatre

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Don Bender – Old Times City Lit Theater
Esteban Andres Cruz – Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train Raven Theatre
James Elly – The Mark of ZorroLifeline Theatre
Ryan Jarosch – Torch Song Trilogy – Hubris Productions
Brian Parry – ShadowlandsRedtwist Theatre
Brian Plocharczyk – After Ashley Stage Left Theatre
Bradford Stevens – Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train Raven Theatre

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Courtney Crouse – Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical Bohemian Theatre
Chris Damiano – EvitaTheo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Brenda Barrie – Mariette in Ecstasy Lifeline Theatre
Laura Coover – Blue SurgeEclipse Theatre
Cameron Feagin – Private Lives City Lit Theater
Nancy Freidrich – The Dastardly Ficus and Other Comedic Tales of Woe and Misery The Strange Tree Group
Betsy Zajko – Beholder Trap Door Theatre

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Laura McClain – The Christmas Schooner Bailiwick Repertory
Maggie Portman – Evita Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Rachel Quinn – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Circle Theatre
Bethany Thomas – Belle Barth: If I Embarrass You Tell Your Friends Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James

SOLO PERFORMANCE
Janet Ulrich Brooks – Golda’s Balcony Pegasus Players
Alice Wedoff – The Shape of a Girl Pegasus Players

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Paul S. Holmquist – The Picture of Dorian Gray Lifeline Theatre
Matthew Sherbach – The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler Dog & Pony Theatre
Kevin V. Smith – Our Bad Magnet Mary-Arrchie Theatre
Madrid St. Angelo – A Passage to India Premiere Theatre & Performance i/a/w Vitalist Theatre
Jon Steinhagen – Plaza SuiteEclipse Theatre
Nathaniel Swift – Blue Surge Eclipse Theatre

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
Chris Damiano – Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Chris Froseth – Woody Guthrie’s American Song – Blindfaith Theatre
Jim Sherman – The Christmas SchoonerBailiwick Repertory Theatre

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Susan Veronika Adler – Torch Song Trilogy Hubris Productions
Jeannette Blackwell – The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler Dog & Pony Theatre
Nora Fiffer – The Autumn Garden Eclipse Theatre
Mary Hollis Inboden – Torch Song TrilogyHubris Productions
Elise Kauzlaric – On the Shore of the Wide World Griffin Theatre
Lily Mojekwu – Greensboro: A RequiemSteep Theatre
Rinska Prestinary – In Arabia We’d All Be Kings Steep Theatre
Mary Redmon – Enchanted April Circle Theatre

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Amanda Hartley – The Robber Bridegroom Griffin Theatre

NEW WORK
Tony Fiorentino – All My Love – Diamante Productions
Robert Koon – Odin’s HorseInfamous Commonwealth Theatre
Frank Maugeri & Seth Bockley – Boneyard PrayerRedmoon Theater
Andrew Park – The People’s History of the United States Quest Theatre Ensemble
Ken Prestininzi – Beholder Trap Door Theatre

NEW ADAPTATION
Fred Anzevino, Arnold Johnston & Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night Theo Ubique Theatre i/a/w Michael James
Cristina Calvit – Mariette in EcstasyLifeline Theatre
Robert Kauzlaric – The Picture of Dorian Gray Lifeline Theatre
William Massolia – Be More Chill Griffin Theatre
Terry McCabe – Scoundrel Time – City Lit Theater Company
Katie McLean – The Mark of Zorro Lifeline Theatre

For Production and Artistic Team nominations, click on “Read More

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