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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

‘Rent’ Remains Powerful

Theater Review

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More than 20 years since it changed the face of Broadway musicals, Rent proves that its powerful message can still be told with urgency, poignancy and joy. Even theater lovers who previously have seen Rent would be remiss to skip the production that opened Friday at the Skylight Opera Theatre.

Rent, a remake of Puccini’s 1896 classic, La Boheme, fills one’s spirit even as it enchants one’s eyes and ears. The man characters are Mark, a documentary filmmaker who follows a group of impoverished, counterculture artists in New York’s East Village, and Roger, his best friend. Roger is an HIV-positive songwriter. Mark and Roger are roommates. Although romantic love eludes Mark, several strong couplings provide the framework around which Rent is constructed. Roger finds Mimi, an exotic dancer who lives nearby. Mark’s former girlfriend, Maureen, switches gears and hooks up with Joanne, a lawyer. And the show’s most colorful character, the ebullient, charismatic Angel, finds happiness with a professor.

Rent is undeniably linked to New York City. Only here, it seems, can such disparate types form a community of “bohemians” who battle for survival in an uncaring world. This production resonates with the sights and sounds of New York’s gritty urban environment. Rent remains not only urban but youthful, hip and edgy.

Credit goes to director Donna Drake for pulling this show together in the relatively intimate setting of the Cabot Theatre. She expertly melds the characters with the music, in conjunction with music director Jamie Johns. Lighting is an equally essential element to Rent’s success, and lighting designer Jason Fassl doesn’t disappoint. Neither does the work of choreographers Donna Drake and Rhonda Miller. The show’s newfound intimacy is brilliantly realized in the duet, “Tango Maureen.”

The most consistently riveting performer in this talent cast is Juan Torres-Falcon as the flamboyant Angel. Actor Lili Thomas is a bit less convincing as Mimi. She’s somewhat well fed to be playing a junkie, and her drug-induced wail in “Out Tonight,” isn’t quite manic enough. But she definitely demonstrates the chemistry between her character and Roger (played by Tommy Hahn). One expects all the voices in a Skylight production to be top notch, and they are, but in particulr Kate Margaret McCann (as Maureen) knocks one out of the ballpark. She is every inch the diva Maureen is supposed to be. And her voice is spine tingling, to say the least.

Rent continues at the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center through June 20.