"Five hundred twenty nine thousand six hundred minutes," or more than 12 years running, "Rent" became the ninth longest running Broadway show in their history. It was Jonathan Larson’s take on a modern musical and the result was electrifying, bringing acclaim to the author in the form of a Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and host of other accolades. This popular show is here in Rhode Island continuing Ocean State Theater Company’s inaugural season in Warwick.
"Rent" is a show about friends, lovers and acquaintances living in New York City in the late 1980’s under the threat of HIV/AIDS, homelessness, loss and adversity. It is a heavy-handed fable; the themes here are strictly adult and does not trade on "cute" musical numbers, but there is welcome humor throughout.
OSTC’s production is a solid one but does suffer from some uneven casting. Our two main characters Mark Cohen (Dan McInerney) and Roger Davis (Nile Hawver) are well cast. McInerney has the chops to carry this central role and his voice is quite strong. Hawver is a brooding Roger and he keeps well with the rocker vibe of his character.
As Mimi, Nora Fox has the energy and the moves but her voice often got lost among the orchestrations; this could be attributed to poor sound mixing; she is at her strongest in harmony with Roger.
Antonio Tillman’s Angel is good but also suffers a bit during some of his numbers where we cannot hear all of the lyrics. Kendra Payne as Joanne has clearly done this role before and it shows, she is comfortable and at home here.
Benjamin Coffin III (Din Griffin) is a smaller role but is handled adequately, and Damron Russel Armstrong is a deep baritone Tom Collins. The character of Maureen is brought to life by Janet McWilliams and she knocks it out of the park with "Over The Moon" and "Take Me Or Leave Me."
McWilliams clearly is having fun with a role that should be. The ensemble cast is also quite strong here and features a lot of local talent, including Derek Capobianco, Andrew Holder and Christiana Rodi, "Seasons Of Love" and "Contact."
Set designer Kimberly V. Powers choices are excellent; simple choices of chain link fence, graffiti and a junk car are nice touches to evoke the dirty underside of New York but do not detract from our central story. Choreographer MK Lawson does a great job with this diverse cast, the dance routines flow quite organically.
As Music Director Esther Zabinski is also part of the orchestra and leads them with skill. As previously mentioned, the Sound Design is a bit uneven during a few of the numbers where the music overpowers our singers and can be a bit of a distraction.
"Rent" is a fun and extremely popular show and has been performed around the world, made into a theatrical film in 2005 with most of the original cast and the final Broadway performance was filmed live and released to cinemas in a High Definition format. It is almost impossible to walk out of a performance of this cultural phenomenon and not be humming one of these tunes.