Erin Petersen

“No day but today”

By - May 24th, 2010 03:32 am
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Tommy Hahn, left, as Roger, and Rick Pendzich as Mark in The Skylight’s Rent.

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.

It’s been referred to as the “Hair of the 90’s” for unapologetically confronting highly controversial subjects like HIV/AIDS, poverty, gentrification, gender play and drug use.

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.

Puccini's Musetta becomes Larson's Maureen, played by Kate Margaret McCann.

Juan Torres-Falcon as Angel.Skylight Opera Theatre photo.

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.

Categories: Theater

0 thoughts on ““No day but today””

  1. Anonymous says:

    This review is dead on. The intimacy of the Cabot changed the show and allowed audience members to get past the flash and into the characters and their stories as no production I’ve ever seen has. Sets, choreography, band, performances, lighting, costumes – this shows has it all. Congratulations, Skylight!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great review of a perfectly marvelous show. Absolutely not to be missed; everything works, and the result is just absolutely magical. Congratulations, indeed!

  3. Anonymous says:

    RENT was at the Netherlands Theatre in New York when I saw it in 1997. It is about the same size as the Cabot. i.e. the perfect size. I saw the Show opening night…great job everyone! You rocked it!

  4. Anonymous says:

    This was a wonderful production and would not have been the same without the design team they had! Lighting design by Jason Fassl really stuck out for me. He created a totally different show than I had seen in New York or even the touring production. Costumes by Holly Payne really brought these characters to life and gave the actors a wonderful set of tools to work with. I hope Milwaukee will start taking more notice of the design elements that go into producing theatre. So often we only get mention of directors and actors in reviews and they are only part of the puzzle. A great design team is crucial to making great theatre…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just saw the show, have to agree with K. on the set design/lighting. First time to see this live, it’s a strong production – great vocals. About half of the material I really like, the rest I won’t recall. Not to take away from a strong cast. It’s just how I feel about this work. Lovely Cabaret bit afterwards to cap off an entertaining evening.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I attended this performance on June 16 and was very disappointed with SkyLight Opera after being its fan while living in Milwaukee for 11 years. The cast’s vocal skills were mediocre with exception of Kate Margaret (Maureen) and Juan Torres-Falcon (Angel).
    Whoever directed the production shouldn’t do it, if better actors weren’t available. Otherwise, it looked like a poor imitation of Broadway production. Came home and enjoyed viewing its clips on YouTube.

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