Friday September 22nd 2017

“RENT”

As a theater community, we are fortunate that we are in fact a “community”, one that shares and allows for companies to work together in staging productions. The Goodman has a steady relationship with Teatro Vista and now American Theater Company and About Face Theatre have joined forces to bring us “RENT” at the ATC building. I might mention, that for this production, they have reconfigured the theater into a large “black box” theater with their doors moved to a new location and no stage, but rather the bare floor flanked on two sides by the tiered seating, so that the actors play close to arena style ( many of the Looingglass productions are done in this manner). Taking on “RENT”, the iconic Rock Musical written by Jonathan Larson is an ambitious move on these two companies. Thousands of loyal viewers are used to the typical production, one that they have seen over and over and enjoyed each time. With the new, intimate look, director David Cromer has also brought the story to a fresh new look in the interpretation.

The cast of energetic players, led by Alan Schmuckler as Mark Cohen ( a perfect choice for the character) and Derrick Trumbly as Roger Davis. While Derrick doesn’t have the usual look of Roger, the heart and sould he puts into the character far outweighs his look and vocal range. Alex Agard is the perfect Tom Collins ( what a strong voice!) and Estaban Andres Cruz handles Angel in a different, playful way. Angel has always been more feminine, a true transvestite, but in this production, we know he is a Gay man who dresses as a woman to earn his keep. We do see the spirit of the character in greater depth than in the original. In fact, part of what this production does is take away some of the glitz of the fancy sets and costumes in order to bring us into the souls of these struggling artists- people who are struggling to survive in the late 90’s, just before the Millenium.

 

There are very few flaws in this challenging production. The band led by Timothy Splain, which has been placed on a makeshift deck above the actors is a little to loud at times, although never losing touch with the music and the meaning of what Larson was trying to accomplish. Only a few actors were miked an dfor the most part, we never lost more than in the opening number Songs like “Seasons of Love” were still as beautiful as ever. In fact, although the voices were not as powerful as most will remember from previous productions seen in Chicago ( or elsewhere), I found that the interpretation made it work. I would have loved Grace Grealey ( a stunning Mimi Marquez) to have been miked only so her lovely tones could have been heard throughout the room,

Lili-Anne Brown (Joanne) and Aileen May ( Maureen) made a lovely couple and the interaction with Mark was just a little more real than in previous interpretations. Tony Santiago plays a mean Benny and the hard working ensemble; Luke Wygodney,Anji White,Steve Tomlitz,Tyler Ravelson,Danielle Plisz,Aaron Neslon and Kara Beard, who play many parts add a great deal to the story and the musical sounds of Larson’s lyrics.

What makes a show like this work is the “togetherness” of the cast ( and crew, as they are a major contributor )- they all work together from start to finish ( 2 hours thirty minutes with a 15 minute intermission). The stage manager ( Helen Laftyak) has to make sure that all the pieces of this puzzle go into the right places as with an open stage area, furniture and set pieces must be moved off the stage while action is going on in another area and costumes (Designed by David Hyman) have to be at just the right spot for the quick changes. Collette pollard’s set is pretty simple, yet each item used as a set piece has importance and property master Katherine Greenleaf does a great job ( and resale store would be excited about the items she has amassed with her staff). Victorio Delorio  and Lindsay Jones( sound) do the best they can under the circumstances making sure that for the most part we do hear it all . This is a large barn-like structure where sound gets lost in the rafters. The Choreography by Jessica Redish is fairly simple as well- this is not a dance show!

“RENT” is a rock version of “Puccini’s “La Boheme” with the story being moved to the 90’s, struggling artists during an economic depression- they are hungry, cold and many had no idea if they would have a place to sleep. They are creative, and yet there is no audience for this creativity. This was also a time when the AIDS epidemic was making news. Many of us are unaware of what these problems really are, only what we read and see on TV and movies ( for the most part) and Larson made us more aware of this. This new production by  ATC and About Face reminds us of what is happening even today, in major cities- many are without jobs ( not just artists) and live from day to day. “RENT” is still happening and even the “RENT” followers who don’t like change will find something new to think about in this production.

“RENT” will continue through June 17th at ATC, 1909 W. Byron Street ( just East of Lincoln Avenue, one block South of Irving Park) with performances as follows:

Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $45-$50 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-409-4125 or online at www.atcweb.org

to see more on this production, visit RENT at www.theatreinchicago.com

 

 

 

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