Monday, September 10, 2012 , Updated 9:04 p.m., September 10, 2012
Theater review: Rent at Theatre Arlington
The direction of Rent leaves some questions to be answered.
A great production makes you forget previous famous incarnations of a show so that comparisons are hard to make. A good production can be compared to the previous incarnations of the show and highlight the parts that were better than the others. Then there is Rent at Theatre Arlington. It is a solid production with great set design, music, costumes, and a few good voices that is soiled by some poor decisions.
The set for RENT is most simply described as amazing. Bob Lavallee's design is very similar to the original Broadway set design, which is highly effective. It provides plenty of open space on the stage floor for movement and different scenes, using tables and other props to set the scenes, as well as various levels. Jack Hardaway's excellent build and Shelbie Mac's incredible artistry transform basic wood into steel girders, and make the Rent set one of the best designed and built sets of the season in DFW.
Theatre Arlington's orchestra for Rent sounds fantastic. Richard Gwozdz continues his tradition of expert music direction. The shifting musical styles of Rent can be a challenge, but the assembled musicians play each song to near perfection. Though the musicians are great, I must question the casting of a few actors whose voices are not adequate for the parts they are playing.
At the top of Rent, we are presented with Tim McCarthy and Shane Allen as Mark Cohen and Roger Davis. McCarthy looks great as Mark, even sporting the signature blue/white striped scarf Anthony Rapp made famous, but Allen's appearance does not convey the look of a hardened, struggling, and wannabe rock-star coming down from six months of withdrawals from heroin addiction. He's too fresh faced and clean. He lacks the life experience necessary to effectively portray a complex character like Roger. Also, as the cornerstone characters of Rent's plot, it is disappointing to listen to the tonally flat sounds of both their singing voices. At first, I thought allergies had blocked up my inner ear and was affecting my ability to hear the music. However, speaking with other audience members confirmed my fear that the singing in this production is not up to par.
There are many wonderful performances to be seen in Rent, the standout being Melissa McMillan as JoAnne Jefferson, the no-nonsense, Harvard educated lawyer trying to reign in the wild Maureen. Making her DFW theatre debut, McMillan is superb, not only in action but in voice, keeping pace with Courtney Nicole Sikora in “Take Me or Leave Me” and stealing “The Tango Maureen” from Tim McCarthy. I hope to see her do more across DFW.
Courtney Nicole Sikora plays the selfish attention whore Maureen adequately. It is easy for someone playing such an extreme character to go too far into the craziness of the role, lingering too long in the spotlight. Sikora shows great restraint not allowing herself to succumb to these pitfalls. Plus, her voice matches excellently with Melissa McMillan's in “Take Me or Leave Me.”
The main sub-plot of Rent revolves around the characters of Angel Dumont Schunard, played excellently by Angel Velasco; and Tom Collins, played wonderfully by Major Attaway. This pairing is fantastic. Both have great voices that blend well for “I'll Cover You,” and their chemistry on stage makes the characters believable and easy to relate to.
Stephanie Fischer ignites the stage with her performance as the sexy Mimi Marquez. She comes to the role with great skill and talent, navigating a complex character expertly. Fischer brings the house down with “Out Tonight” and emotionally crushes the audience with her somber presentation of “Without You.” She is truly an up-and-coming talent in the DFW theater scene.
The direction of Rent leaves some questions to be answered. The casting, as mentioned previously, is one. Also, why does Andy Baldwin make the most touching and loving song in the show, “I Should Tell You,” a near pornographic display the audience must awkwardly endure? The choreography is inappropriate for the scene, relying on many sexually suggestive poses. What the character Mark describes as a “tender kiss” is just short of a full ravishing on stage.
Overall, Theatre Arlington's production of Rent has some possible award-winning technical aspects. Those, coupled with a few beautiful performances nestled between a couple rough ones, make Rent a decent show worth seeing on an uneventful, pre-Fair weekend.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Lloyd Harvey played Benjamin "Benny" Coffin III. That role was actually played by Durant Searcy.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
See more stories in:
- Free music fest in Arlington features Polyphonic Spree, Sarah Jaffe Memorial Day weekend
- Photos: Cowboys Cheerleaders strut in final rounds of auditions
- Video: Look inside the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader tryouts
- Photos: See a chaps-wearing Pit Bull, a wiener dog dressed as a Boomstick
- Photos: Kids and parents attempt to float their boats at Cardboard Regatta