Highly Recommended***** Every time I see “Rent”. I walk away asking myself what would have happened had Jonathan Larson lived. This musical has won award after award and has been a jumping post for many young actors. It is also a play that has a large “cult-like” following, who, despite knowing every word of every song, buys that ticket so they can once again take part in one of theater’s true “theatrical experiences”! That being said, the latest rendition of this Award winning play is now on stage at the Paramount Theatre, that gorgeous refurbished venue in downtown Aurora as part of their third year of offering the Broadway series to the local followers and the suburbs surrounding the second largest city in our state.
And what a production this one is! Under the careful eye of director Jim Corti and musical director Shawn Stengel, we are brought to the East Village of New York, we are able to view a side of society that most of us never would know in this modern day version of “La Boheme”. We, the audience get to experience a year in the lives of these young people, artists, musicians, some with AIDS, some with drug needs/problems as they learn to live amongst others, love and survive. They also learn the value of true friendship as well as true love.
This is a rock musical filled with some great music and in fact may be considered more of a “rock opera” than a musical. There is some dialogue, but for the most part, it is the music that Larson brought to the story ( original concept Billy Aronson, who also write some additional lyrics) that makes it what it was. i will say for those of you who love this show, there is another Larson show,”Tick Tick,Boom” which gets some play, here and there that tells the story of Larson and the creation of “Rent” that may help you make even more sense to the desire he had to get this play on the boards so to speak.
What makes a show like this work is the cast! Corti, a genius when it comes to finding talent to fit each role of a play ( even the ensemble members are stand-outs) has found some old and some new to make this another truly masterful production in this marvelous venue. The main characters in this production, Mark Cohen, the film maker/story-teller is played by Andrew M. Mueller ( of the truly theatrical, local Mueller family). While he does not have the powerful voice one expects in this role, I for one see the value of having an actor who sings in this part as he is the story-teller as well and I find him to be sheer perfection in this role. His roommate Roger ( deftly handled by Adam Michaels) is a song writer hoping to write one special song before he dies. They had another room-mate at one time, Benny ( Kelvin Roston Jr.) who has married into money and now owns the building, where they have not paid the rent for a year.
Their best friend , Tom Collins ( the incredible Evan Tyrone Martin, whose vocal range is astounding) is a homosexual, as many of teh characters are and after being mugged, meets Angel ( Sawyer Smith plays this role with all the heart and soul that one can expect) a”Drag Queen” who also is infected with HIV, and yet brings love and happiness to all he touches. There are many characters in this story who are either Gay or sick and there is some langauge, so iut is suggested that parents consider thier children before buying them a ticket, but to be honest, our younger generation knows a lot more that we did in our youth and can more than likely handle the language and the situations with no problems.
This is a solid production with a great cast of players: MimiMarquez ( the amazing Adaeze Kelly) is the neighbor upstairs that falls in love with Roger although she is having a “thing” with Benny! I told you this was adult material. Maureen ( the adorable Andrea Prestinario) is Mark’s old girlfriend who has “switched teams” so to speak and is now with her lover, Joanne ( powerful performance by Meghan Murphy) a female activist attorney . While these ar ethe main characters, the ensemble is sterling and must be acknowledged for the energy and talent they bring to this stage and production:
Erika Diel, Aaron Conklin, Gannon O’Brian, Adrienne Walker, Michael Potsic, Josh A. Dawson, Raven Monique Dockery,Neil Stratman, Kasey Alfonso, Lillie Cummings and Joyee Lin- they are all terrific as they handle many roles and fill the stage with the sounds of this wonderful music:
“I’ll Cover You”,, “Light My Candle”, “Take Me Or Leave Me”, “Without You”, “Over The Moon” ( where we do get “mooned”,” One Song, Glory”, :Goodbye Love”,”Rent” and of course, “Seasons of Love” ( this song alone is worth the trip to Aurora as they truly nail it- btter than the road shows that have come in over the last several years. In fact, Corti and his people have to be truly proud of what they have brought to Aurora and the people of the West and South ‘burbs. Each season, they grow even stronger and unlike many theaters are not afraid to take risks. Thank you Paramount! and Thank you , Aurora!
For this production they have almost rebuilt the stage area to add girders and a second floor that appears to be all steel. The set is not what we have seen in te past and with the musicians onstage, they have made use of the orchestra pit by having action leave the stage into the pit and then out of the pit ( maybe a few to many times, but this production is strong enough to overcome this teensy flaw). Kevin Depinet’s set is masterful,Theresa Ham’s costumes are fitting and unlike the original in many ways making this a more unique production. In fact, Sawyer Smith is the tallest Angel I have ever seen and yet despite his size, his interpretation of the roles is petite and near perfect.Mike Meyer did the filmwork so that at the end when we witness Mark’s film we see our actors in a real environment that makes them even more real to us. The lighting (Jesse Klug and Nick Belly) along with the sound (Adam Rosenthal) and props(Sarah E. Ross) and sound sequencing(Brian Deppe) round out the production. Katie Spellman handles the choreography, but unlike most musicals this one does not have a number of real dance numbers, just movement!
Kudos as well to the onstage Rock Band led by Shawn Stengel ( keyboards) and Steve Roberts,Kraig McCreary,Tom Mendel,Jim Widlowski and Deb Stevenson- “you guys ROCK!”
Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 1 and 5:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $36.90 – $49.90 and are available at the box office, by phone at 630-896-6666 and online at www.ParamountAurora.com
Valet parking is available and metered spots on the street are aplenty ( much lower fees than Chicago) and there are plenty of dining spots in walking distance from the theater as well. This theater allows drinks and snacks in the seating area and a full ba is available. The ride to Aurora is easier every time I drive out there and knowing the quality theater I will experience in Aurora makes the drive even shorter. The ride home is joyful as I think about the experience I just shared with those who were there with me. Enjoy!
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Rent”