Somewhat Recommended ** Let me begin my review of Jonathan Larson’s “RENT”, now playing in Arlington Heights at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre by thanking its board of directors for having the “guts (only spelled with 5 different letters, still ending with an s) for bringing a new and younger audience to this beautiful venue that the Village brought to fruition. While I love the work itself and have seen it many more times than I can count, it is very seldom, one will see this “Rock Opera” based on “La Boheime” in a “burb” like Arlington Heights. I have been coming to the Metropolis since its inception and must say, this was the youngest audience I have ever seen in this house!
Most audiences are familiar with “RENT” and its story about a group of artists in New York during the height of the AIDS epidemic and the struggles with survival for those in the arts and to find their identities. It is filled with songs that many recognize such as the major song that begins the second act “Seasons of Love”, “Take Me Or Leave Me” and “No Day But Today”. Being a Rock Opera, most of the show is sung, but unlike others, there is some actual talking in this one. Larson passed away before he could see the heights that his work has achieved. Who knows what this brilliant man would have brought to our stages in the years after this sterling and thought provoking story.
Direction of a musical such as this is not an easy task. As I said earlier, most of us have seen it more than once and are used to certain elements when we go to the theater to observe. In fact, the movie version was a true “turn-off” for many because they took away the portion where the audience feels what they feel. Lauren Rawitz, the resident director at Metropolis, has in some areas re-invented the images that we are used to, knowing that she is attempting to bring a new audience to the theater; a younger audience, for sure!
Her set, designed by Ashley Woods, adds some stairs and levels allowing Angel to take the stairway to heaven in his final scene. Yes, that is an old song title as well as a true cliché, but when it takes place, one will feel a sense of loss for the friends that are Angel’s. I must say that her ensemble casting is stronger than her leads. While it is always possible that opening night jitters has an effect on actors, but I found Mimi Marquez (Mollyanne Nunn) a bit shrill and doing more yelling than singing. When Ms Nunn toned down in the final love song with Roger (well-played by Tommy Malouf) I began to feel her sorrow and liked her. Before that, I didn’t.
Our main character is Mark Cohen (a perfect name for Arlington Heights/Buffalo Grove area) a film-maker who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend, for another girl. Mark is played by Dominic Rescigno, who has a nice voice and great range, but did not hold me as the central character that’s function is to hold all the pieces together. Their best friend, Tom Collins is played with class by Jordan Harris who is the lover of Angel, the transsexual played to perfection by Will Wilhelm. I told you they had a lot of B—s, as this show can be a turn-off if you do not know going in what the parts of the puzzle are. It is however a love story of sorts, where the characters learn to love themselves as well as each other. They also learn that with the drugs and the free sex come the penalties, so perhaps it is a good idea for some of the suburban kids to be made aware of what life might hold in store for them.
Mark’s ex, Maureen (deftly handled by Abby Vombrack) shakes the audience up with her “Over the Moon” number in the first act, getting the audience to moo along with her. I am sure that this was a first in Arlington Heights. The only thing missing from this number was her actually “mooning” the audience. Many were disappointed, I am sure. Her girlfriend Joanne is played by Monica Szaflik (by the way, this is the first time I have seen this character played by a white girl) and the other main character, Benjamin Coffin III , the former roommate of Roger and Mark is played by Derrick Mitchell.
As I said earlier, the ensemble is what makes this show truly work. Fania Bourn, Brigid Buckley , Mallory Maedke, Jacob McKenzie Gilchrist, Jessica Nicole Hill, Danielle Jackman, Julian Terrell Otis (what a sweet voice he has), Paul Michael Thomas, Brittany Wolf and Jonathan Stombres ,who along with Mallory Maedke, gave me chills as they took on the middle special solos in “Seasons of Love”. Some of these actors deserve to be in feature roles in the future at Metropolis, or other local theaters.
I applaud Metropolis for taking a large leap forward with their production of “RENT”. I am sure that as they continue to become the characters they portray, this cast will make adjustments and become a stronger team and while it is not as powerful a production as the recent Jeff Recommended TheoUbique production, the music is terrific (Michael Bulaw on bass, Alex Newkirk on the keyboard and Lior Schragg on the drums). Great sound from these three people under Newkirk’s direction. The costumes were a bit different from the original and touring, but worked so hats off to Cathy Tantillo. Jen Cupani’s choreography was sparse but unique and Holly McCauley did a great job with her props. The finishing touches on the tech side were lighting (Michael Wagner) and sound (Chelsea Lynn).
“RENT” will continue at The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre located at 111 West Campbell in Arlington Heights thru July 3rd with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 7 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Running time 2 hours 25 minutes with a 15 minute intermission
Tickets are $38 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 847-577-2121 or online at www.metropolisarts.com
Special events June 8th- lunch and show $55
June 9th and 16th dinner and show $65
Plenty of free parking, on the street or the enclosed garage behind the theater (upper floors 4 and 5 are free) there is an elevator of course.
To see what others are saying, visit http://www,theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “RENT”