Due to the success of Rent’s theatrical run, starting in 1996 and its 2005 film adaptation, taking on the Jonathan Larson rock opera can be an intimidating endeavor. The prestige of past productions, coupled with the heavy content matter of the show, make it a challenge for any theater group to take on. But Players’ production of Rent, performed over the past weekend, both lived up to preceding performances and succeeded in recreating the show with its own personal flavor. The singing and acting were emotive, impeccable and most importantly, unique to each individual actor and how he or she wanted to portray Larson’s characters.
With a large cast of main characters sharing the lead roles, it’s important for each actor to infuse their singing and speech with each individual character’s personal qualities; Mimi must be adventurous, Roger stubborn and melancholy, Maureen wantonly confident, Joanne type-A, Angel unconditionally kind, Collins humanitarian and Mark the wandering observer of the lives progressing around him. Each actor expressively incorporated the idiosyncrasies of these characters, while not merely imitating the performances of stars like Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal who are so well-known for their roles.
I loved that Meg Foley, who played Maureen, made “Over the Moon” her own and Eric Craft, who played Collins, went into falsetto during “I’ll Cover You (Reprise),” embracing his own vocal range and skill during the song which is emotionally demanding. Even the ensemble was able to incorporate intense emotions into their precise singing, making company songs like “La Vie Bohème,” “Another Day” and “Seasons of Love” some of the strongest.
The costuming, makeup and minimalist set were also effective in establishing the mood of the show. Most of the characters’ attire was based on the grunge stylistic movement, emphasizing this time period of the early 90s as an important part ofRent’s story. For modern audiences, especially millennials who were not born or very young during the AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s to ‘90s, a world where having HIV or AIDS made you a social outcast and the prospect of finding a long-term treatment was just a dream seems distant.
Yet, this was reality for Larson’s characters and actual individuals living at this time, which the cast members of Rentdetailed in the opening of Act II, when the lead actors shared past and current statistics about HIV and AIDS and how it affects certain communities more than others, including people of color and the homeless. The look of the show in general brought me back to this cultural moment, where the rock industry was plagued by heroin addictions and people wore second-hand clothing out of necessity, not for a specific look.
Every member of the cast and crew contributed to the success of the play, but I do want to draw attention to some standout performances. Mike Chance and Rachel Estrada, who played Roger and Mimi, were fantastic. They had good on-stage chemistry and excellent singing chops. Their talent and passion made their narrative arc one of the best features of the rock opera.
Other showstopper moments were “Contact,” “Santa Fe” and “Tango: Maureen,” and of course, the touching finale, made even more poignant by the appearance of Angel, played by Fred Carlton, who the spotlight shown as the last image of the show.
There were very few mishaps during the performance. On the Saturday matinee performance, “Take Me or Leave Me” fell a little flat, as it seemed that the actresses had difficulty keeping up with the band for this song. Additionally, the staging of “Happy New Year” made it difficult to hear much of the dialogue, and although Jon Vazquez was a very emotive and talented singer, technical difficulties made it difficult to hear him throughout the production.
Other than these minor shortcomings, Players’ production of Rent was one of the best things I have seen on campus, including the performances by the Department of Theater and Dance. It was inspiring to see the actors, musicians and crew put their all into making this important show not only a smash, but one that I certainly won’t forget.