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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

‘Rent’ Due at Skylight Opera

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Jonathan Larson’s Rent may be the 1990s’ biggest contribution to musical theater, but it remains an odd mixture. It’s Puccini’s La Boheme by way of raw, grunge-inspired rock transmitted into a highly polished musical-theater vehicle that is the antithesis of the bohemian aesthetic that rests in its heart.

Its conflicting elements make a truly satisfying production difficult to come by. The slick, touring Broadway production often lacks the heart, soul and passion that drive the story. A recent Greendale Community Theatre production featured a passionate cast almost entirely the same age as the characters they were playing, but while the unevenness of community theater aided the grunge aesthetic of the musical, it lacked the poise and technical prowess found in a more professional staging. Next week, however, the Skylight Opera Theatre raises the curtain on a production of Rent that could have both the technical brilliance of a Broadway tour and the raw energy of local theater.

Skylight Artistic Director Bill Theisen seems to be trying to strike a balance between passion and form. “We won't be blasting out your eardrums as is often the case with Rent,” Theisen says. The show’s music director, Jamie Johns, who has worked extensively with the Florentine Opera, should lend musical precision to the production.

The talented Tommy Hahn anchors the raw rock of the musical in the role of Roger Davis, an aspiring rock star dealing with AIDS. Hahn has a solid background in theater, but lately he’s been better known as the lead singer of local “indie alternative pop rock” group Revolush. Joining Hahn in the musical’s emotional center will be Rick Pendzich as aspiring filmmaker Mark Cohen. Pendzich’s nice-guy charm should draw audiences into the story.

The cast features Milwaukee native Julia Black as Joanne and UW-Milwaukee theater major Ron Lee as Benny. There’s also an interesting mix of talent in the chorus, including highly recognizable local actresses Alison Mary Forbes and Ericka Wade and 2010 Milwaukee Poetry Grand Slam champion Nigel Wade.

Skylight Opera Theatre’s production of Rent runs May 21 through June 20 at the Broadway Theatre Center.