Keegan Theatre RentBy Courtney Ferguson • Jan 5th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Church Street Theater, Washington DC
Through January 17th
Reviewed January 1, 2010
The Keegan Theatre’s current production of Rent at their Church Street location is a must see. The cast is spectacular and the small space provides an intimate experience. Rent is a show that tends to leave a strong lasting impression on people; sitting in the audience I heard many people around me recalling their past experiences with Rent, whether they had seen it on Broadway or watched the movie. The set is dressed with posters and has a grungy look that transports you to New York’s East Village in the late 90’s. The simplicity of the set provides the atmosphere but more importantly it allows you to focus on the story itself. The actors entered the stage one by one and based on their costumes – that are a trademark of Rent – the audience knew exactly who they were.
The opening number “Rent” preset the show and provided insight to how good the show was going to be. The voices were strong as was the music. The singing is the true backbone to the show Rent being it is a “rock musical,” it cannot get by with weak voices, thankfully no one in the cast fell under that category.
Mark Cohen is our faithful narrator and compassionate friend as portrayed by John Loughney. Loughney projected Mark’s compassion for life but was also tormented with loneliness. The relationship between him and Roger was like father and son, Mark always looking out for Roger and his well being. Juan Carlos Sanchez provided a touching performance and very strong vocals as Roger a former Rock musician. In the ballad “One Song Glory” Sanchez revealed the depth of Rogers suffering as he is faced with the reality that he will soon die from AIDS. The conflict between Roger and Mimi (Emily Levey) during “No day but today” was moving, though Mimi herself is sick, she had a passion to live and love while Roger had already shut himself off to the world and was waiting to die.
Trotting on stage in either his sexy Santa suit or as James Bond’s “Pussy Galore” Parker Drown captured all the things that make Angel so lovable and charismatic. Both him and his lover Collins played by Michael Robinson displayed the highest level of what it really means to love despite each other’s obvious differences.
Other strong vocal performances came from Katie McManus who gave a very stern and almost unlikable performance as Joanne Jefferson. Her partner is the sexy eccentric Maureen played by Weslie Woodley. Woodley did a great job in representing everything that Joanne is not. Benny played by Edward Daniels was…. Benny, a role that can be hard to comment on because it’s not as prominent as the others, but Daniels essentially provided the essence of who Benny is.
The ensemble was very strong it seemed that each member had a chance to shine in one way or another playing various minor roles and singing solos though out the show. Some of the best moments came in which the entire cast was singing as an ensemble in such numbers as “Will I” in the first Act.
The staging was executed very well, as an audience member I felt very active, constantly looking up, down, left and right as characters where placed all throughout the set as well as the theatre itself giving my head a bit of a whirl wind effect but it was fun.
Directors Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea have done a lot of justice to this show in regards to its recent departure from Broadway, they have provided those who may have never had a chance to see a Broadway or touring show of Rent an experience that many who have seen the show go back for. This production was very professional and enjoyable, I was provided with a great evening by the Keegan theatre.
- Ensemble: MaryLee Adam
- Ensemble: Shayna Blass
- Ensemble/Swing: Mickey Daguiso
- Benny: Edward Daniels
- Angel: Parker Drown
- Ensemble: Julia Fanning
- Ensemble: Nick Lehan
- Mimi: Emily Levey
- Mark: John Loughney
- Joanne: Katie McManus
- Ensemble: Christopher Mueller
- Ensemble/Swing: Carolyn Myers
- Collins: Michael Robinson
- Ensemble: Christina Sanchez
- Roger: Juan Carlos Sanchez
- Ensemble: Dan Van Why
- Maureen: Weslie Woodley
- Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
- Musical Arrangements: Steve Skinner
- Original Concept/Additional Lyrics: Billy Aronson
- Musical Supervision and Additional Arrangements: Tim Wells
- Dramaturg: Lynn Thomson
- Director: Mark A. Rhea
- Director: Susan Marie Rhea
- Music Director: Aaron Broderick
- Choreographer: Kurt Boehm
- Stage Manager: Christina Coakly
- Stage Manager: Rich Ching
- Assistant Stage Manager: Cee-Cee Swalling
- Set Designer: George Lucas
- Sound Director: Eamon Coy
- Master Electrician: Drew Kopas
- Sound Engineer: John Robert Keena
- Costume Designer: Kelly Peacock
- Costume Designer: Shadia Hafiz
- Properties Designer: Katrina Wiskup
- Set Dresser: Carol Baker
- Video Producer (Ending Sequence): Rich Montgomery
- Production Assistant: Chuck Whalen
- Light Design: Company
Notes from the Dramaturg
Jonathan Larson’s Rent began in collaboration with playwright Billy Aronson who wanted to write and upbeat version of Puccini’s La Boheme. Larson took over the project and throughout the 1990s he created the piece, while supporting himself as a waiter. It took seven years to complete with more collaborators, many rewrite and much re- structuring as well as a $45,000 grant from the Richard Rogers Foundation. On Jan. 24, 1996, after the final dress rehearsal for the Off –Broadway opening, Larson was interview about the show by the The New York Times and went home exhausted and happy. He died the next morning from an aortic aneurysm. But Rent went on to become a global phenomenon and to win just about every prize available to a dramatic work: the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Obie Award, the Tony Ward and the Pulitzer Prize.
The musical and dramatic sources for Rent are varied and include elements from Larson’s own experience of living poor under harsh conditions. But many of the characters, plot lines and even some melodies are directly based on Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme, which premiered almost exactly 100 years earlier in Turin on Fed. 1, 1896. Paris in the late 1800s has become New York City’s East Village at the end of the 20th century. Tuberculosis, the “plague” of Puccini’s opera, is replaced by AIDS and more specifically, the AIDS of New York City in the 1990s. When the syndrome first appeared in the early 1980s, it was believed to be a manageable disease among a marginal population, but by 1990 it had grown to a full blown epidemic in many parts of the world. Compellingly captured in Rent is the strong sense of community among those living with AIDS at that time. But it has been written by many that fear was the pervading emotion for gays and their allies. Being in close relationship was no longer safe. Those who lost friends but survived felt guilty and depressed.
In recent years antiretroviral drug treatments have been developed, but there is still no vaccine and no cure. Since 2000 there has been a new surge of AIDS which is not confined to marginal or high risk groups. Government funding for research and other support has not been close to adequate. The Ryan White Care Act to improve care for low-income victims of the disease was first enacted in 1991 (during the first Bush administration) and has been reauthorized several times, most recently, this past October. During his presidency, George W. Bush promoted increased funding for global AIDS programs in the U.S. President Obama has put forth a comprehensive plan for fighting HIV/AIDS worldwide which includes programs for research, care and prevention-in April of this year he announced his intention to put AIDS “back on the nation’s radar.” There is much to be done.
During the lengthy rewriting of the show, one of his collaborators suggested to Jonathan Larson that he create a one-sentence summary of the story of Rent . This was what he wrote: “Rent is about a community celebrating life, in the face of death and AIDS, at the turn of the century.” After Larson died and the decision was made to go on, Daphne Rubin-Vega, the original Mimi, said that “it let us remember that the bottom line is what you do with the experience, because tomorrow isn’t promised you.”
Photos by James Coates for the Keegan Theatre.
Disclaimer: Keegan Theatre provided one complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/4422.
Courtney Ferguson is currently a student in the theatre arts program at Howard University pursuing a B.F.A in acting. Her plans are to go on to grad school to study Voice and Speech. Her credits include work on and off the stage, and she can be seen in the upcoming production of The Laramie Project with the Providence Players.