A Vibrant, Joyful “Rent” at Slow Burn Theatre
By Skip Sheffield
Artistic director and choreographer Patrick Fitzwater asserts Slow Burn Theatre Company’s “Rent” is the first professional regional production of the Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize Best Musical of 1996.
While Fitzwater says “Rent” is the “most mainstream” show put on by Slow Burn, it is plenty out there.
Inspired by Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” and written and composed by Jonathan Larson, “Rent” is set in Greenwich Village, New York in the turbulent late 1980s. It was Larson’s intention to write a rock opera to “Bring musical theater to the MTV generation.”
The MTV reference is already dated, but composer-lyricist Larson certainly had a way with words and music. Tragically he died of an undiagnosed aneurysm just before opening night at age 35.
Perhaps Larson felt “death’s winged chariot” hovering nearby, for a lot of people were engaged in risky behavior in late 1980s New York. The terrible specter of AIDs was just being discovered, and there would be many casualties before it was learned how to slow and control the disease.
Yet “Rent” is an upbeat tribute to the human spirit. Exhibit A is “Seasons of Love,” which leads off Act Two.
“In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, How do you figure a last year on Earth? Figure on Love.”
Exhibit B: “Finale/Your Eyes.” “There is no future. There is no past. Thank God this moment’s not the last. There’s only us. There’s only this. Forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today.”
If ever there is a celebration of living in the moment, it is “Rent.” This production is sparked by a young cast, all local, who sing the songs as if they lived them.
Mark Cohen (Mike Westrich) and Roger Davis (Bruno Faria) are the main guys who serve as kind of narrators. Deep-voiced Darrick Penny is a gay man in love with a drag performer named Angel (Bruno Vida). Angel is one of the characters who lives on the edge. So is Mimi (Abbey Perkins). Mimi is Roger’s girlfriend but sadly she also loves the drugs that have her addicted.
Amy Miller Brennan’s Maureen Johnson is a proudly-gay woman in love with Joanne Jefferson, played by the powerfully-voiced Christina Alexander. Brennan’s showcase number is a play-within-a-play, “Over the Moon.”
With rent you must have a landlord, and he is Benjamin Coffin III (Rayner G. Garranchan), viewed as a turncoat because he once was a struggling Village person and now has a rich girlfriend whose daddy owns the building.
If you know “Rent” only from the 2005 movie do yourself a favor and see this vibrant stage production. It has so much more with a fantastic set by Sean McClelland, lighting by Lance Blank and precision live, onstage musical accompaniment by Caryl Fantell and her small but mighty band.
“Rent” runs through April 26 at West Boca High School Performing Arts Theatre. Tickets are $25-$40. Call 866-811-4111 or go to www.slowburntheatre.org.