“No day but today”
I was a bit skeptical going to see Rent again. The last time I saw it was in 2002 when a traveling company came through the Riverside Theater. The show was good, but it was very, very loud. Which it should be — it is a rock opera — but many re-productions of the mid-90s musical made the mistake of trading emotional sincerity for volume, and that was one of them unfortunately.
So it’s refreshing that Donna Drake’s production at the Skylight breathes a new life into Rent, with magnificent vocals and thoughtful performances from the entire cast.
Rent was written by Jonathon Larson and Billy Aronson as a musical update to Puccini’s famed opera La Bohème. The story is essentially the same: a group of artists and bon vivants struggle to live and love under the shadow of oppression, disease and artistic vision. Instead of existing in the lush backdrop of 19th century Paris, Rent comes straight out of the coarse and unforgiving streets Alphabet City on New York’s Lower East Side.
There have been thousands of productions of Rent in the past decade and consequently a good number of those productions diluted the plot or rested heavily on kitsch, and the film adaptation, try as it might, still added a certain amount of “Hollywood” to the story. Drake and company remove the glossy outer layer and take it down to the bare essentials, focusing on the character and allowing the actors space to inject their personalities into the role.
Kate Margaret McCann was fun, over-the-top (to say the least) and slightly abrasive as Maureen— and I mean that in a very good way. Her voice is incredibly powerful and at the same time very tender.
Juan Torres-Falcón is impeccable in the role of Angel and seemed to establish an immediate emotional connection with the audience. There was hardly a dry eye in the house as the cast sang “I’ll Cover You” during Angel’s funeral (present company included).
I think that this cast’s ability to convey that human connection is the biggest standout in this production. This is after all a story about people, about maintaining one’s humanity and being able to recognize the humanity in others. It’s a love story, really. The intimate setting at the Skylight is a far cry from the colossal amphitheaters that normally house Rent, and somehow you get the feeling that that’s how Jonathan Larson would have wanted it to be.
By the closing number, the audience was laughing, crying and singing along from the edge of their seats.
Rent plays through June 20 at The Skylight Opera Theatre. For tickets and showtimes, check their website.