The cast of Rent. Photo: Brymer Photography
Book, Music, & Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Brian Gligor
A review by Jennifer Starr
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Jennifer Starr. All rights reserved
Based in NYC in the 1990s, Rent is a musical with timeless messages about poverty, disease, friendship, loss, love, and healing. Jonathan Larson’s best-known work opened in 1996, gained critical acclaim, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical. Rent has become a staple of classic musical theatre that has reached cult status for a generation of performers. It carries true images of experiences of the AIDS epidemic in America, as well as the impact of crushing socio-economic poverty on young adults. These stories have recycled into today’s generation of Americans who continually struggle with homelessness, drug addiction, epidemic disease, and the loss of friends – universal messages indeed. Miraculously, the heaviness of these themes is not what Rent is remembered for when leaving the theatre. Through music and voice, Rent is about love, overcoming despair, choosing your own family, and finding hope.
Pandora Productions opened this show last night to a full house of Rent lovers at the Henry Clay Theatre. Some audience members even sang along, which was a bit distracting at times, but a little forgivable, because everyone knows these songs well. Highlights include a cast of excellent singers, quality lighting, a multi-level set, and an energetic second act. The actors in this production had lovely voices and are excellent singers to be sure, though I wanted a little more grit than pretty singing at times for that rock feel. I must admit I have a new voice crush on Lawrence Robertson, who played Tom Collins. I wept a bit and had goosebumps during his “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)”. I believe the entire audience felt this way. Stephanie Michelle Collins chimed in along on the reprise with her rich soulful voice to lend support and joined in the magical cast tour de force number “Seasons of Love” to create an apex of energy for the show. Alonzo Ramont (Benny) showed off his impressive pipes for that group number as well. I was impressed by the mega high-heeled dance work of Isaiah Archie as Angel and enjoyed this actor’s quieter moments too. Landon Sholar (Roger) and Kimberly Roeten (Mimi) had some lovely moments together. The ensemble members Tyler Dippold, Julia Mikulec, and Erik Moth each had excellent touches with their voices in chorus solos.
Technical aspects that landed well were the use of a handheld follow spot via the tech crew, era-appropriate Christmas lights, frantic projection images, and great choreography of metal tables. There were nice sound effects with echoing resonance to support Maureen’s “Over the Moon” scene.
The production was enjoyable, but the cast lacked a bit of the relationship bonding required for the friends and lovers. Other aspects that need attention and will most likely work themselves with time were sound issues that rendered many singers’ voices muffled and left me yearning for that rock-n-roll drive of percussive beats that you can feel in your seat, a band that needed more rehearsals with their conductor (whose audible directions for tempo changes were distracting), and loss of essential guitar licks; a non-committed pre-show cast and audience interaction that was awkward which may have led to a lower energy first act. I am certain these factors will sort themselves out over the run with more performances.
The second act was the driving force in this production. The actors seemed to gel a bit more, relax on stage, and brought the show back to life, in more than one way. Rent is a lovely celebration of life triumphing over death. “No Day But Today” leaves us all feeling hopeful that these young adults will live on, furthermore we will all live on by remembering departed loved ones and honoring them, mending our relationships, supporting our friends, and loving each other unconditionally. Universal messages of hope abound in Rent.
Featuring Isaiah Archie, Kate Holland Ballowe, Trent Everett Byers, Stephanie Michelle Collins, Tyler Dippold, Frank Goodloe, Julia Mikulec, Erik Moth, Kristina Nguyen, Alonzo Ramont, Lawrence Robertson, Kimberly Roeten, Landon Sholar, Annie Weible, and Mariann Zickhur.
November 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 @ 7:30 pm
November 5 & 12 @ 5:30 pm
November 19 @ 2:30 pm
The Henry Clay Theater
604 S. Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Jennifer Starr is a Louisville Director, Actor, Stage Manager, and avid theatre goer with a BA in Theatre Arts with minors in Music and English from Eastern Kentucky University. She serves on the board of directors of the Mind’s Eye Theatre Company and often assists local community theatre productions with her time and talent.