The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Rent
Organization Stand Out Talent
Date(s) of show June 12-28, 2015
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review Stand Out Talent's Rent plays through June 28 at Roseville's Tower Theatre, though there is a rumor that it may be extended to the second weekend in July. I saw the show on a Saturday night in the middle of its run, and in my judgment this production is a masterpiece. It's clearly adult fare, and if that doesn't disqualify it for you, it is well worth seeing.

This musical has been compared to Puccini's La Bohème largely because the plot of both revolves around young artists living on the fringes of society eking out an existence, dealing with unstable romantic relationships, living on emotional rollercoasters, and coping with illness and death. And Rent in fact plays like a modern-day opera in which choruses, arias and recitatives outweigh straight dialog in advancing the story. The details of that story, though, make La Bohème seem mainstream: all kinds of romantic relationships are portrayed (straight, gay, lesbian), there is drug addiction, and it seems that practically everyone has AIDS or is HIV-positive. At times it seemed that what I was witnessing on the stage was simply chaos. It felt to me that nothing was held back in the direction to make this a faithful presentation of the show that practically swept the Tony awards in 1996. I recall thinking that one scene was "over the top" in its raunchy, sexy realism. And then another scene came along that raised "the top" — and exceeded it. This is not a show for the social conservative.

Having seen the movie version and being familiar with some of the outstanding music, I was able to follow the action, but I wish that Stand Out Talent had one other feature of contemporary operatic performances: supertitles. The sound system was adequate, but I had trouble making out rapidly delivered or sung lines, especially when the musical accompaniment was loud. Maybe this was my own problem, though, because I did often notice at least some of the rest of the audience reacting to dialog or lyrics that I missed. On the other hand, I believe that a lot of those in the audience may have just been very familiar with the show.

I don't think I can say enough about the cast. For a start, each of their voices was strong when singing solo, and when the whole company sang together, they presented an excellent ensemble sound. And their acting felt natural to me. Along with that, there were many standout individual performances. I was particularly impressed with Caroline Mixon's (Mimi) big number "Out Tonight," which was eye-popping, full of strong, passionate singing and even a bit of gymnastics. Sidney Raey (Maureen) loomed large throughout the show and had her own moments of peak performance, especially in "Over the Moon" or with Dominique Dates (Joanne) in "Take Me or Leave Me." Jonathan Cranmer delivered a virtuoso performance as drag queen Angel. He seemed to have brought his own rooting section on this night because when he first entered, it seemed like a third of the audience cheered. He went on to earn everyone's enthusiastic applause in his big number, "Today for You," and with the help of Derek Dozier's (Tom) acting, he and Dozier made a convincing couple. I've seen a lot of Chris Celestin in recent years, and it was a pleasant surprise to see him in the role of Mark. He's a complete performer — singer and actor — and his natural humor added a lot to — and sometimes stole — the show. Nick Lunetta seemed to me to be almost an island of stability among a lot of troubled, even tormented souls, though his passion could flare up, too, and when it happened while he was singing (as in "One Song Glory"), he had the distinctive raspy sound that propelled Joe Crocker to fame decades ago. And Tory Scroggins was appropriately menacing or manipulative as Benny. Each of these people gave well-defined characters, spiced with edgy humor or soothed with sensitive moments.

In many ways, the "company" were as entertaining as the principals, and I have vivid memories of everyone performing high-energy numbers like "Rent" or "La Vie Bohème." In a way, it felt like everyone, including each member of the company, lived this show, rather than performed it. To me, they seemed more like a tribe than a cast. Looking over my notes, I saw that I wrote "amazing" time and again. (And that's "amazing" in the good sense of the word.) This show was an opportunity for some extraordinary performers to cut loose, take risks, and show a greater range of their talents than other roles might allow. I saw a lot of truly remarkable acting, singing, and choreography (and directing).

A lot of the performers were new to the Stand Out Talent stage. I think the same could be said of the audience members. On the whole they were younger and perhaps a bit more counter-culture than other audiences I've observed at the Tower Theatre. I got the feeling that many of them knew this show well, and many may have been drawn to this production because of their connection with a cast member.  Whatever the reason, they gave an energy that the performers reflected back to them.

I have to comment on the music in this show. It's remarkable that Jonathan Larson wrote the book, music and lyrics for Rent over a period of five years, dying on the morning of its first preview performance in 1995 when he was only 35. He won a posthumous Tony award for the witty, vibrant and varied score (and the book and the show itself), and I can see why. There are many excellent, engaging songs in a variety of styles, and I felt that Musical Director, Nic Valdez and the other 4 band members presented them beautifully. I think it would be impossible to stage this show without a live band, and with these musicians in particular, the musical energy of the show was unfailing.

Finally, this production is a tribute to the versatility of Director Jason Bortz and Choreographer Jennifer Bortz (along with all the other roles they fill). I've seen them produce some great adult plays ("Next to Normal," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and great family comedies ("Seussical," "13, The Musical," and "Mary Poppins") — and many other types of dramas and musicals. To have produced such an authentic staging of this complex show and have assembled such an outstanding cast is a major achievement.

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