Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Metro State Presents the Pulitzer-Prize Winning Musical Rent tonight, Wed., April 14
By Lizzy Scully
The Pulitzer Prize winning musical Rent opens Thursday, April 15, at the King Center, Auararia Campus, presented by the Metro State College of Denver Theater Department.
The stage is set, a gray and metallic cityscape. Ladders and wire fencing hang off scaffolding, multi-colored posters are plastered on the walls, and Christmas lights are strung haphazardly over everything. The bleak scene evokes urban neglect and decay. But when the young artists and musicians—the main characters of the play—assault the stage, their frenzied and desperate energy also inspires hope and idealism. Many have HIV/AIDS or are or were drug addicts, they have no money to pay the rent, and relationships are complex and fraught with pain. But these young folks also have the will to fight for the rights of the homeless, start life support groups, revel in their diversity and live according to their ideals. This is Rent, a rock opera by Jonathan Larson and based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème. And, despite the complexity of the script and score, Metro State’s Theater Department does it justice.
The play opens with the narrator of the show, filmmaker Mark (played by Chris Russell), beginning to shoot a documentary of the bohemian lifestyle lived by himself and his friends, starting with his best friend, the reclusive, reformed drug addict and musician Roger (played by Winston King). The men, who both have lovely resonant voices, sing about their sundry problems, but most specifically their current landlord—Benny (played by Patrick Wills). A former friend and roommate, Benny married into a rich family, bought the building in which Mark and Roger live and the neighboring property where the homeless live, and is now pressuring the two men to pay the rent. The premise of the film becomes their refusal to pay the rent or support Benny’s efforts to develop the property.
As the play progresses, the two men are eventually joined by various eccentric characters, including: Collins (played by Curshion Jones) and his gay lover, transvestite Angel (played by Tyrell Donaldson); Mimi Marquez (played by Lauren Baird), an exotic S&M dancer who becomes Roger’s love interest and the person who eventually brings him out of his depression; and Maureen (played by Erika Kae), Mark’s sexy ex-girlfriend, who is now in a relationship with lawyer Joanne (played by Courtney Capek).
The story is painful to watch as the subject matter is harsh, but I found myself smiling throughout the performance. Choreographer and alumna Jenna Hawkins allowed for a certain amount of anguish to come out in the various dance performances, but she also encouraged a strong sense of playfulness between the characters and audience. With her outrageous rendition of “Over the Moon,” Maureen’s desperation to become famous and her fun, tawdry side come out through dance and song. And Angel’s hilarious, flamboyant strutting and posing provided sufficient comedic moments throughout the play.
The lyrics heightened that sense of light heartedness for me. I particularly enjoyed “Tango Maureen,” during which Mark and Joanna are forced into an unwanted confrontation, but then end up dancing and discussing Maureen’s infidelities and quirks. As well, though not the final song, “La Vie Boheme/I Should Tell You” wrapped up the theme of the show for me. Sung by the entire company, it illustrated the point that reality is a messy mix of neurotic and enlightened experiences, both of which contribute to the richness of life and both of which contributed to the richness of this musical.
Rent runs in the King Center’s Eugenia Rawls Courtyard Theatre from April 15-17 and 22-24. Shows start at 7:30p.m., and on April 25 at 2:30 p.m. For more information, click here.