Highly Recommended ***** It is hard to believe that twenty years have transpired since Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” took New York by storm. The “rock” musical, inspired by Puccini’s “La Boehme”, a tragic story about the pain and suffering of artists. “Rent” is a modern-day version of this story and takes place in New York at the end of the 1990’s, as the world prepares for the new millennium. Living in an old factory are many young, poor “artists”, who are all hoping to make their mark in the world. Mark Cohen, who is our main character and sort of story-teller, is a young Jewish boy ( Matt Edmonds, who doesn’t have the appearance one is used to in this role, but who wins us over after the second song) a film-maker who wants the world to witness the problems that artists face in a world that closes doors to people who are “different”. His apartment mate is Roger (deftly handled by Patrick Rooney), a song-writer who as it turns out has been infected with the AIDS virus and now only wants to write that one song that will leave his imprint on the world.
What we witness during this two hours and thirty minutes of story-telling is the most intimate telling of this story I have ever seen. Being ten feet away from the action, for the most part, makes us feel that we are truly there during this torrid year in the lives of these people. There are love stories throughout, but not the ones that we are used to as we deal with all types of couplings. One of the beautiful parts of this story is the love between Collins (played to perfection by Chuckie Benson) and Angel (Aubry McGrath, who surprised me with his strength of character. I have never seen a non-Hispanic play this role). Angel is an amazing character. He might be transgender, but is certainly a “drag-Queen” and the love story between Collins and Angel is truly a highlight to the story. There are also some that feel that Angel is indeed the “guiding light” that brings all of these characters together at the end of the story. I would be interested in your opinion on this one!
Another strong love story is that between Mark’s ex, Maureen (Courtney Jones is dynamic in this role and very sexy) and her new love, JoAnne ( Nicole Michelle Haskins is perfect). Their relationship has its ups and downs (lets face it, even the best of us have good days and bad). Roger’s love interest is Mimi (Savannah Hoover is wonderful in playing this dependent druggie, who also has been infected by AIDS) who has also been with their former room-mate, now landlord, Benny (a fine portrayal by James Osborne). While it may seem complicated, it is far from being so. Each story is interwoven with the others as they are all pretty much in the same boat. Starving or struggling either financially or emotionally.
Part of what drives this powerful story is the music. Larson, who died right after the opening of the show (only having one other show “Tick,Tick, Boom”, which I would love to see done at TheoUbique in the future) would have brought us some more magic along the way. Being a “Rock Opera” the score is the vehicle that tells the story, and the music is hauntingly beautiful. The orchestra under the leadership of Jeremy Ramey at the keyboards is amazing. Kevin Brown (drums), Jake Saleh (Bass) and Justin LaForte (guitar) truly make the music sound as if a full orchestra was on hand.
Scott Weinstein’s direction is smooth and keeps the action moving. There is not a great deal of dance in this show, but where it does fit, Daniel Spagnuolo does a masterful job. Here is where I tip my hat to the ensemble. This play cannot survive without a strong ensemble to make the songs truly be the story telling machine that Larson designed it to be. Danielle Davis, Parker Gudry, Ron King, Luke Linsteadt, Ella Pennington and Deanalis Resto make us feel that there is a much larger cast. Those of you that have been to the No Exit Café for a TheoUbique production before are aware of the intimacy of this small venue. Seeing a large -scale production in this venue is an experience that will be remembered for years to come. When they sing a song standing over your shoulder, making you truly feel that you have broken the fourth wall and are eavesdropping, you hear the words in a different and unique way. You truly understand what they are saying and what the playwright was telling us. That is the beauty of TheoUbique and its creator Fred Anzevino, who truly knows how to make something special happen in Rogers Park. I know that another production will soon open in Arlington Heights. I can only hope they will take a ride to Glenwood Avenue and witness what is truly a wonderful presentation of a wonderful show!
There is no question in my mind about Weinstein’s understanding of this show. Adam Veness has done a great deal with the set design, utilizing the small space so that every spare inch is used. Kristof Janezic (lighting), Izumi Inaba (costumes), Brock Alter (projections) and Katie Beeks (props) are the technical people who truly make this a complete production. One that the entire theater community should be proud of. It is a delight to watch and I am only sorry that you only have until May 29th to do so, thanks to an extension.. There are 68 seats in the No Exit Café, so you can see just how limited you are.
The performance schedule is as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 7 p.m.
Tickets range from $39-$44 ($5 discount for seniors and students) ALL unsold tickets will be sold at the door as student rush for $15 with ID, cash only at curtain.
Dinner packages available MUST be pre-reserved $25 each- to see menu visit www.theo-u.com
To order/reserve your chance to see this glorious production call1-800-595-4849 or visit www.theo-u.com
No Exit Café is located at 6970 N. Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park, The Red Line Morse Avenue stop is just around the corner. There is parking on the street, some metered, some not.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Rent”