I saw RENT on Saturday night at the Lower Ossington Theatre.
I have seen this show onstage around 12 or 13 times so I know what I like, I know what I don't. I'm very particular, but I do also appreciate innovation and I think every production I've seen has brought something new to the table.
The first thing I noticed was an absence of the usual cast. I've seen quite a few plays, almost all, from the Lower Ossington, and the only cast member I recognized was Mark Willett as Brian from Avenue Q.
Three things that bothered me after I left. One, at the end of the first act, Aaron Sax as Mark said that Roger is going to write a "bittersweet, provocative song". The line is "bittersweet, evocative song." Roger is trying to write a song to evoke memories of his whole life and love and the disease, not a song to make people get naked to. He used the word provocative in the second act as well.
Second is that Jaclyn Herder, fantastic as Mimi in act one, left at the intermission. I've seen hundreds of plays, I've never seen this happen before. She was replaced by someone less stellar.
Third is that after Angel dies, she came back on stage before the end. There was generally a feeling of trying to use the whole cast more, for example I have never seen "Out Tonight" sung as anything but a solo and they had about 8 people on stage for the number. There were times it was too much. "Living in America" had the entire company on stage, including Angel who was dead. It really lessens the impact. Dead is dead, how are we supposed to suspend our disbelief if she's walking and having a dance party in front of us five minutes after dying? Also at the end Angel came out on the top floor, separate from the rest of the cast, which I didn't appreciate. Why keep her separate now, she was already doing a dead dance five minutes before? I would have rather seen her come out last and be welcomed by the other cast members and made to feel included.
Several more notes:
Although it's fine to listen to the soundtrack to memorize the notes, I would encourage the cast not to sing the soundtrack verbatim. Particularly Kevin Vidal as Collins, during the "I'll Cover You" reprise, he's just lost his life partner. Put more emotion into each note, building, and your voice should be strong, maybe even crack a little with emotion, when you hit the top, the line "When your heart has expired". It was too perfect.
The choreography was very ambitious. A little too much at times, for example in "Santa Fe", the cast links arms and does the dance from the Wizard of Oz, "We're off to see the Wizard" and we can see them rolling down the yellow brick road. Too much. I would say it worked well for "Out Tonight" though.
There was a couple of times the cast was so caught up in the dancing they missed the significance of the lines. In "Happy New Year" the line “That's for midnight” refers to the champagne bottle that one of the characters is holding and drinking. It’s Mark saying “Don’t drink that – that’s for midnight!” The line was delivered Saturday night to thin air, the bottle on the floor behind the cast tucked away and not yet touched.
Also in that song the lyric “5-4-3- open sesame!” refers to them breaking the lock off their door. The performance I saw, the lock was long gone, the open sesame command being delivered to thin air.
Graham Fleming is the most handsome man I’ve ever seen in my life.
He’s tall and beautiful, which is not an ideal fit for Roger, who is a dark and sullen rock star. Attempts were made to dirty him up, including eyeliner, fake tattoos, a leather jacket, but I don’t know that they really worked. He has an amazing voice but I just didn’t buy his depressed loner hunk. I would have suggested him for Mark instead, moving Kevin Vidal into the Roger role, a natural fit for the hunk.
I have never seen "Contact" performed without a sheet, and it was very brave of this young cast to come out shirtless, and very effective.
Marissa Dingle as Maureen was perfectly cast as the star of the show. This is the hardest role, you have to come on cold at the end of act one and instantly win the crowd over and mission accomplished.
Phil Skala as Angel and Jacqueline Martin as Joanne also stood out.