Photo credit: Paul R. Kennedy
Written by Patrick Chavis
There are stories that are timeless, and there are stories that define a time and place. I think, in some ways, the musical Rent is both. Even now, decades later, people are singing Rent’s songs and dancing to the melodies-and Rock music isn’t even considered the most popular genre anymore. The late great Jonathan Larson, before he passed away, not only did he show the world that Broadway could rock. He brought a much-needed spotlight to the growing aids epidemic tearing through New York and the United States at the time. This was a very short run, and by the time this review is released, the show’s run will be over.
Rent is a musical set right as the 1980s were ending. The story follows a bunch of artists squatting in a vacant loft in New York City, trying to survive the AIDS epidemic and the city itself. Rent is a masterpiece of modern musical theater, and UCI puts on an undoubtedly great production of the work. It’s not that rock hadn’t existed until Rent. The style of rock didn’t have a significant presence on Broadway. A more recent parallel can be seen in Hamilton, which brought hip-hop as a viable option for musicals. Rent did the same for Rock music in the 1980s. Without Rent, we most likely wouldn’t have Rock of Ages, or Green Day’s American Idiot.
While Director Telly Leung doesn’t do anything dramatically different from what I’ve seen in previous Rent showings, this production has its unique flourishes. I loved Leung’s direction choices in conjunction with the scenic designer Andrea Corona. Corona’s presentation does multiple things. First, it mimics not only the high rises of New York but also the subway system when it’s above ground. Second, you can now see the inside of the buildings, which adds more depth to the set and provides the director access to interesting spaces in which performers can be placed throughout the show.
Rent has an abundance of cast members, and there are sequences with multiple harmonies and actions happening at the same time. If you can get that balance right, it sings (literally), but when you don’t, it’s chaos. This show hit the right balance. It was exciting to be in the audience, and what an excellent new crop of talent coming from this school. I hope they keep acting, and I hope they keep singing. There were some highly professional performances here.
This was a very creative set. I was blown away during certain moments by the creativity of Set Designer Andrea Corona. The design was functional for the performers but also detailed enough that it didn’t look bare in any parts of the stage. The live band was cleverly placed underneath the subway sign. Beautiful moments of snowfall and lit-up signage falling from the rafters. Giant protruding lights projected out into the audience, almost blinding in a way similar to the dark headlight-filled streets of New York. It was exceptional work.
I can’t deny that the singing was weak or a little off. The majority of the singing from this cast was very well done, if not great. I thought the pieces “Over the Moon,” “Christmas Bells,” “Out Tonight,” and “Seasons of Love” were especially memorable.
What a bombshell performance from Kayla Quiroz. She played Mimi Marquez, the stripper and love interest to Roger in the story. Not only did Marquez sing her part beautifully, but her movements onstage totally inhabited the character, and it was a lot of fun watching her perform.
Melanie Macri’s performance of Maureen Johnson was quirky and full of life, and she made it her own. I loved everything thing she did with this part. Her performance still floors me.
Lastly, Nathan Bravo’s performance as Angel just leapt off the stage. Incredible.
While there were some mild singing issues in this production, when the cast was harmonizing together, it sounded amazing. If you made it to the Claire Trevor School of Arts June 3- 10, you experienced something special.
Story8.5Acting8Set & Design9Costumes9Entertainment8
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Great Show! OCR Recommended! June 3 – 10,2023.
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