Writer Joan Tupponce reviews Firehouse Theater's "Rent."
Topnotch performances bring modern version of "La Boheme" to life.
The Firehouse Theater Project made a sound decision when it chose to stage the Tony award-winning musical, "Rent." Since its opening, the show has been selling out consistently and there's a good reason why. The cast is top-notch.
"Rent" is an updated, pop-rock version of Puccini's opera "La Boheme." The play, when it opened in 1996, was considered a break-through by critics.
Set on the lower East side of New York, the play features a group of friends who have met with hard times and are trying to survive in a world filled with drugs and HIV-AIDS. Their bohemian lifestyles keep them on the verge of homelessness much of the time.
The eight characters that lead the action range from an aspiring filmmaker to an HIV-positive musician who is struggling to write a song, from a female lawyer with a free-wheeling girlfriend to a sassy drag queen street drummer.
Director Jase Smith makes effective use of every inch of the Firehouse stage. The telephone and balcony vignettes add a layer of depth that makes the stage seem even larger than it is. The power behind this production is the energy and talent that occupies the stage. The cast is strong in voice and expertise.
Nick Aliff gives Mark, a filmmaker documenting his life and the lives of his friends, a voiced charm that is endearing, while Josh Marin shows the edgier side of Benny, a former member of the group who has been "yuppie-fied."
Durron Tyre, as Tom, a computer genius who falls for Angel, a drag queen, gives one of the best performances of his career. Antonio Tillman, who plays the fun-loving Angel, is a scene-stealer who electrifies the stage every time he or she steps foot on it.
Jackie Camden, who plays the flighty Maureen, and Joy Newsome, who portrays her girlfriend, Joanne, are a force to be reckoned with, especially when they perform "Take Me or Leave Me." They have real chemistry on stage.
Terrence Sullivan brings a raw honesty and superb voice to the character of Roger, a musician who finally finds the inspiration he needs for that one song.
Nadia Harika is quite convincing as Mimi, a dancer and drug addict who lives life on the edge.
The vocal talent in this production is as powerful as it is exacting; with all of that said, "Rent" will not appeal to everyone. It deals with alternative lifestyles and drug use, which might not be the right combination for someone looking for a fun, lighthearted evening at the theater. You need to go into this production with an open mind.
"Rent" is beautifully acted and staged; it's a powerhouse when it comes to vocal abilities. It was the perfect choice for Firehouse.
The show runs through August 1st.
For V for Women and joantupponce.com, this is Joan with One Woman's View.