Monday, March 5, 2012
Theater review: Rent at Casa Manana Theatre in Fort Worth
A more-than-capable cast made it easier to overlook the technical difficulties.
I attended the annual Column Awards gala and, as I am every year, was amazed at the seemingly infinite amount of talent in our local theater community. From costume designers, to directors, actors, singers, dancers – we really have it all. This production of Rent had several local performers to back up that statement.
Everything is collaboration these days. Original ideas and works are so hard to come by alone, and two or more heads are typically better than one. So we have Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, and half of the original members of ABBA as examples of today's theatrical contributors. Even the late Jonathan Larson, who passed away just before Rent's off-Broadway opening based his story on La Boheme, the 19th century opera by Giacomo Puccini. Larson is credited with writing the book, lyrics, and music, however – quite an accomplishment for a piece the size of Rent.
As shocking and tragic as Larson's sudden death was to those involved with his creation, the stark reality of his absence served to increase the impact of Rent. In many ways Rent was too pragmatic and hard for my taste - a slice of American pie that was too honest for me to swallow. But that's also what I enjoyed about Larson's book. The characters were well-developed, the music fit beautifully within the bounds of the narrative (well, the music really was the narrative in this rock opera), and it showed a side of our country's underbelly that was easily overlooked by the population at large.
Casa Manana's production of Rent (playing at Casa Manana Theatre through March 11) reflected real life: it was beautiful at times, but also wrought with imperfections. A solid cast kept the ship afloat but not without some difficulty.
The reviewed performance was crowded with more than a few lighting and sound issues, including several missed microphone cues and a 15-minute portion of Act 2 when the show actually stopped. The cast was taken off stage three separate times while the problem (rumored to be a blown fuse) was remedied, but the actors and musicians were able to pick up exactly where they left off. The good news is that technical issues can usually be remedied.
Though I'd never seen Rent before (yeah, yeah…I know), the set was exactly what I envisioned. There was no set designer credited in the playbill, though I learned a team of Casa's production wizards conceptualized and built the final product. They did a remarkable job filling every inch of the stage with scaffolding, caution tape, graffiti, and every other manner of industrial material. The lack of warmth on the set augmented the austerity and gravity of the story line, all the while lending authenticity to what was meant to be a New York City tenement.
I was thrilled to see so many native D/FW-ers on the cast list for this show, though the actors brought in to play some of the leading parts were a welcome addition to the Casa stage. Jason Wooten was one such import. He looked every inch the bedraggled and isolated musician, thanks to Tammy Spencer's costumes and Catherine Petty-Rogers's hair and makeup (though I suspect the long hair was Mr. Wooten's own). He contributed to most of my favorite numbers, including "I Should Tell You" and "What You Own." Mr. Wooten sang with a lovely vibrato that was active but not at all overdone.
As Mimi Marquez, Karmine Alers reprised the role she played on Broadway – quite a coup for Casa Manana and a treat for our local audiences. Ms. Alers was incredibly energetic as the warm-hearted, drug-addicted Mimi and her "Out Tonight" was the up tempo highlight of the show. She evoked a wide range of emotions with her performance, especially during "Goodbye Love."
Maurice Johnson and Walter Lee Cunningham, Jr. As Tom Collins and Angel Schunard respectively, this dynamic duo left a permanent imprint. Regardless of how many times I see Rent in the future, I will always remember that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Cunningham were my first Collins and Angel.
Mr. Johnson shared a vocal range most people would envy. He was velvety and bold in his bass range but remained crystal clear in his upper register and falsetto. His affection for Angel was palpable (the reprise of "I'll Cover You" forced me to use the tissues I secretly hid in my purse), and I was intrigued that this "non-traditional" relationship was the one in the show that affected me most. And why not! Mr. Cunningham shared a stunningly openhearted, thoughtful, and incredibly generous drag persona. Not only were his boots to die for, his ability to run and dance and jump in them colored me three shades of green.
"Seasons of Love" was perhaps the most well-known of the Rent anthems, and for good reason. With beautiful harmonies and insightful lyrics, it was one of those songs that became embedded in your head and stayed there for days. Ensemble members
Kia Dawn Fulton Simone Gundy and Darius-Anthony Robinson both shared standout solos during this number.
The steady, well-written book and the more-than-capable cast made it easier to overlook the technical difficulties of this production. Here's hoping a second performance today solved the problems altogether.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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