Making Every Moment Count in MVT’s Rent
|March 18, 2014||Posted by Guest Staff Contributor under Staff Reviews|
Hester Lewellen is a Guest Staff Reviewer for Hitting the Stage.
“Seasons of Love,” also known as “525,600 Minutes,” is one of the most memorable songs in the show Rent, based on the product of 365 days times 24 hours per day times 60 minutes per hour, by way of saying in the age of AIDS “make every minute count.”
The cast of Rent, now playing at MVT, is making every moment count in their production. The voices are strong, the actors are talented, and if you want to see a good production of this rock musical, you can’t go wrong here.
You have probably read of the ironic tragedy of the author of book, lyrics, and music, Jonathan Larson, who died of an aortic dissection the night before the show’s first preview off-Broadway in New York. The show ran for 12 years and won all kinds of awards, but few can think of the show without the sadness of knowing its author never got to celebrate or even know of his success. Doctors thought his chest pains were due to stress.
Larson himself lived in an unheated apartment building in Greenwich Village, surrounded by other artists, so he was writing of what he knew. The story has strong echoes of the opera La Boheme, which is interesting for us opera buffs, but the show can be enjoyed without knowing of the ailing Mimi, the unlit candle, the cold hands, the conversation not meant to be overheard, etc. Instead of a writer and an artist, we have a filmmaker and a composer guitarist who strums “Musetta’s Waltz.” But these bohemians who celebrate “La Vie Boheme” are afflicted by AIDS and drug addiction rather than tuberculosis.
Rent is well cast and well directed (and choreographed) by guest director, Paul Mitri, Chair of UHM’s Theatre and Dance Dept. Andrew Doan’s set is appropriately grungy and graffiti’ed. The orchestra, directed by James Mares, is behind a brick wall painted on a scrim, so sometimes we see them and sometimes we don’t, but they are always great support for the actor/singers.
Instead of just two main pairs of lovers, we have the LGBT spectrum. Kaimana Ramos plays Mark, the would-be filmmaker, whose lover, Maureen (played by Leiney Rigg) has left him for girlfriend Joanne (played by Kim Anderson). Mark and Joanne commiserate with a great song/dance called “Tango Maureen.” Roger (Garett Taketa) and Mimi (Shawna Lynn Masuda) play out the more traditional La Boheme roles with heroin addict Mimi at one point leaving Roger for a wealthy suitor but coming back when her AIDS is crashing.
The heart of the show is the gay relationship between Tom Collins (played by Kyle Malis, who was Gabe in MVT’s remarkable Next to Normal last year) and transvestite Angel Schunard (Giovante Joseph). (Aside to opera buffs: Based on Colline and Schaunard. We even get a coat song.) I lost many, many fellow performers to AIDS in the ‘80s before there was AZT, but this show, set in the ‘90s, shows the disease continues to fell even those with medication, leaving behind those whose relationships have been “rent.”
A shout-out to the Ensemble, especially powerhouse baritone Bob Malis.
But oh, my, all praise and honor to Leiney Rigg as performance artist Maureen. She and Joanne have a wonderful duet in the second act, “Take Me or Leave Me,” but I’m talking about her first appearance at the end of the first act to protest the landlord’s plan to build on a lot where the homeless are living. She holds nothing back in a rollicking, passionate protest against the loss of naturalness and reality in the digital world of today. Like great performance art, it is crazy, over the top, and sometimes shocking. You go, girl!
Hmmm. I wonder if Rent enthusiasts will be ready to try La Boheme now (You can catch a live broadcast from the Met at 1 PM Saturday April 5 at Dole Cannery movies), just as West Side Story devotees took another look at Romeo and Juliet once they had seen a modern version.