Review: “Rent” struggles at times, but power of love pulls through
Skyler Volpe, left, and Kaleb Wells, right, during the "RENT" 20th Anniversary Tour. The show ran from Nov. 3 to 5.
A power outage is part of the storyline in Jonathan Larson’s “Rent,” but the audience was not expecting the stage to go black just five minutes before intermission. Nevertheless, it made for an eventful opening night for Broadway In Tucson’s latest production, held at Centennial Hall on Friday, Nov. 3.
The cause of the blackout was a supposed power outage for the entire area, which unfortunately sparked a second technical difficulty in the middle of the second act.
Mario Di Vetta, marketing and sales manager for Broadway In Tucson, said despite the backstage drama, the cast and crew were all professional in their response.
“Everyone handled it really well; there were no issues, no complaints; everyone seemed happy,” he said. “I think it’s the show. Everyone loves 'Rent.'”
And to that extent, he was right. Around 2,000 audience members filled the seats, Di Vetta said. Some had even been following the production around the country.
Tucson local Maddie Loomis saw the production earlier this year in San Diego and, upon finding out it was coming to her hometown, immediately entered a competition in which she won two tickets to opening night.
Given its themes that include living with HIV/Aids, drug addiction and sexuality, the musical is not recommended for children under the age of 14. Loomis, however, says she still loves the musical, despite only being 15.
“It’s just a ground-breaking musical; it’s too amazing to put into words," she said. "It really speaks to everyone, too."
In particular, she was looking out for her favorite actress, Skyler Volpe, who plays lead female character Mimi Marquez.
“She was phenomenal, and I want to meet her at the stage door,” Loomis said. “Her acting is amazing and so is her voice.”
Volpe gave a very strong performance as the emotionally damaged Mimi. Performing in her shiny blue outfit, her solo in “Out Tonight” was mesmerizing, as she powerfully moved her way down the set during the rhythmically upbeat song. All throughout the performance, Volpe had a great stage presence that made her a standout to watch.
Overall, the group performances were harmonious. The voices complemented each other to create a symphony of sound that enveloped the audience and, despite not having a lot of group choreography, the scattered clusters on-stage were a way for each actor to demonstrate more of their character’s personality.
The group numbers were enhanced by the fact that each cast member was dedicated and devoted to the performance. The audience could feel an infectious passion emanating from the stage, particularly in the crowd-pleaser “Seasons of Love,” where everyone clapped along.
In particular, there was respect for the actors’ professionalism, as they had to cope with not one, but two technical difficulties which caused them to reset the stage. A sound board issue affecting the microphones happened in the middle of Mimi’s ballad “Goodbye Love.” Volpe walked off-stage and reappeared a few minutes later and immediately went back into character, crying and giving a gut-wrenching wail to her ex-lover, character Roger. It was a testament to the actors' maturity and dedication to their craft to see them so composed and calm, despite being on-stage in front of thousands.
However, Volpe was not the only star of the show. Aaron Alcaraz’s character, drag queen Angel, was also a highlight. His character inspired many in the audience, as there were quite a few people also dressed in full drag, and his entrance received a loud cheer. Angel had a rich and smooth voice, heightened by flamboyant costumes and dance moves.
Special mention must also go to Lyndie Moe, who plays the promiscuous and brazen Maureen. Originally portrayed on Broadway by Idina Menzel, Moe had big shoes to fill. Her entrance to the stage was a dramatic performance of “Over the Moon.” Given the theatrics required of this piece, Moe did an excellent job. She wholeheartedly embraced the comical elements and had the audience laughing with her, even chorusing with a few loud “moos” (it’ll make sense when you watch the show).
The production also stayed as true as possible to Larson’s original set and costuming. Avid theater-goer Ashley Hendrickson, who has a background in stage management and has seen
"Rent" many times, was appreciative of the authenticity.
“They stuck with Jonathan Larson’s vision, which I like to see,” she said.
The costumes helped transport the audience into the early '90s, including oversized jumpers, baggy flared pants, short crop tops and animal prints. This, coupled with the minimalist set, conveyed the grungy setting of East Village in New York City well.
However, there were a few issues that were spurred on by the electrical outage. The acoustics of Centennial Hall resulted in some songs sounding quite pitchy and overwhelmingly loud, to the point where it was uncomfortable for some audience members.
Hendrickson noticed this limitation of the venue.
“The acoustics need some work, and that’s detracting from the performance,” she said.
After the second power issue, the audio levels of the band seemed to almost drown out some of the singing, particularly noticeable in Roger’s solo in the finale song, “Your Eyes.” It was a battle of who could be the loudest, as the volume became blaringly loud.
Perhaps it’s the magic of "Rent" and the beautiful storyline, or perhaps it’s the fact that the audience developed a respect for the way the actors conducted themselves on stage, but all of Centennial Hall was bought to their feet as the cast gave their bows.
Hendrickson wiped away tears and said the production “redeemed itself” in the end.
Despite the hiccups, there were snippets of harmony and chemistry between the cast that were an absolute pleasure to watch. Larson’s message of the power of love and compassion for each other still rings true, 20 years after the show’s conception.
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