Friday, January 24, 2014
I was 16 the first time I saw “Rent” ... and I left the theater decidedly unimpressed. So when I got tickets to see the Flowertown Players’ production of the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, I was less than enthusiastic.
Their production changed my mind.
It wasn’t perfect, but the show was dramatic and entertaining, the vocals were impressive, and the actors’ performances inspired an emotional response from the audience.
Cutting to the chase: it’s worth the $25 ticket.
The scene is 1989 New York City. A group of friends are struggling to survive. They’re artists, anarchists, musicians, rebels, filmmakers, protestors, dancers, strippers, lovers and fighters; they’re broke and homeless, and many are living with HIV or AIDS.
Living is the key word – the show is about learning not only to survive, but to thrive in the face of impending pain and death. The group is searching for love, happiness and identity before they run out of time.
Political injustice, sexuality, and disease are all heavy elements of the plot, which definitely make it an adult production. Adult language and jokes run rampant.
That’s part of the reason this reviewer applauds Flowertown Players for deciding to put on this show; it’s young, gritty and sexual, which is not something every audience will welcome.
“Rent” embraces sexuality of all kinds, and that acceptance isn’t always widespread, so “thank you” to the Flowertown Players for choosing a provocative production that will challenge and educate our community.
Speaking of romance, the relationship between Collins and Angel was particularly impressive. “I’ll Cover You,” the duet that actors Kevin J. Thorn and Jason Marion performed, was touching, and the kiss at the end made the heart skip a beat.
The cast was accompanied by a quartet that included drums, an electric guitar, bass guitar and piano.
Live music is particularly complementary to live theater, regardless of how large the orchestra is, because it adds to the viewer experience.
This was the biggest disappointment with “Rent” – the band performed during some songs but yielded to pre-recorded music for others. The switch was distracting and drew attention away from the vocals and toward the absence of a live band.
And that was a shame, because some of the vocals were spectacular. Alexandria Rashanko’s voice stood out in every song she performed, whether the entire 20-person cast was singing or she was performing alone.
Other notable performances include Michelle Smith’s execution of humor, Cody Smith’s smooth vocals and Jason Marion’s dancing skills (you have to respect a man who can run, jump and climb on tables in platform heels).
The set designers used the gritty feeling of the James F. Dean Theater to their advantage. It did get a little confusing at times, though, when the space was transformed for another scene … except it didn’t always come off as transformed.
The same applies for the costumes – a few ensemble cast members seamlessly made the transition from “bohemian” to “worried mother” with a coat and hat, but most of the time they still looked like a bohemian, with a nice yellow coat on. A hat and maxi-skirt would have made the transformation complete.
But all in all, the show was a delight.
I laughed, I cried, I fell in love a little bit, and from the looks of other people in the audience, this reviewer wasn’t the only one.
The Flowertown Players are performing “Rent” at the James F. Dean Theater from Jan. 17 - Feb. 2. Tickets are available for purchase at the boxoffice, located at 133 S. Main St., or online at www.FlowertownPlayers.org.