Fighting Chance's Rent is full of infectious enthusiasm

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      By Jonathan Larson. Directed by Ryan Mooney. Presented by Fighting Chance Productions. At Presentation House on Thursday, August 6. Continues until August 23

      Buried under the rubble of excess decibels, a vocally impressive production of Rent is struggling to emerge.

      This isn’t old fogeyism talking. Yes, Rent is a rock musical and should sound like one. But in this mounting from Fighting Chance Productions, the volume in the tiny, 150-seat Presentation House space is so excessive that the microphones distort and, because the balance is off, the band fights the singers. The resulting blast obscures far too many of Jonathan Larson’s witty lyrics and blows the tenderness of all three central relationships off the stage.

      If this company would just dial it down, they’d have a much better show.

      In itself, Rent is a fantastic musical. There’s a loose plot about how the characters are being forced to pay back rent on the industrial space some of them occupy on Manhattan’s Avenue B. But Rent is really about exuberant, fucked-up young love. The straight relationship between Roger and Mimi shares stage time with Joanne and Maureen’s lesbian pairing and the romance between the gay Collins and his paramour Angel, who’s a drag queen. Mark has been dumped by bisexual Maureen so he satisfies himself with documenting a year in his friends’ lives on his video camera. It’s the ’90s, and four of the seven main characters are HIV–positive.

      Director Ryan Mooney has cast some tremendous talent. Anton Lipovetsky (Mark) and Craig DeCarlo (Roger) took a while to settle down on opening night but, when they did, Lipovetsky delivered a performance of charismatic enthusiasm and DeCarlo seductively filled in Roger’s moody rock-star contours. Both singers execute their roles’ vocal pyrotechnics with admirable ease.

      The lesbos also knock it out of the park. As Joanne, Jenn Suratos combines a powerful voice and powerful stillness. Jacqueline Breakwell’s Maureen is deliciously sexy, assured, and playful. Joanne and Maureen’s duet, “Take Me as I Am”, is a highlight of this production.

      Christine Quintana fares less well as Mimi. She’s got the vocal chops, but her acting is cluttered by messy physicality, and she just doesn’t feel like the wild girl Mimi must be. Cesar Erba’s falsetto rings pure as Angel but he struggles with the movement in his big number, “Today for You, Tomorrow for Me”. Erba and Nick Fontaine, who plays Collins, make an odd couple that never really clicks.

      Everybody in this cast gives their all. That enthusiasm is infectious and there’s a lot of excellent work here—but it would almost be better unplugged.

      Comments

      19 Comments

      JC

      Aug 7, 2009 at 5:15pm

      I agree wholeheartedly with this review, except I didn't actually like the lesbian couple. Maureen overacts, and the Joanne doesn't act. The Mark is too young, and lacks any angst that the role needs. And someone please tell the keyboardist to practice more. Her blatant mistakes during the really powerful scenes in act two were so distracting, even the performers were thrown off. I can't recommend this production at all... It's like a bad high school production. Ugh.

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      Sad much?

      Aug 8, 2009 at 12:59am

      JC - So are you someone who auditioned and didn't get in? Your notes are pathetic and come across petty. Maureen overacts how? In her performance piece "Over the Moon" - where she's supposed to be overacting? In her killer song (Take Me or Leave Me) that brought the audience to huge applause the night I was there? And how does Joanne "not act"? She's on stage, playing it truthfully. And why does Mark have to be angsty? Because Anthony Rapp was in the movie?

      You come across as a petty child - and your closing line "ugh" isn't doing you any favours.

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      CM

      Aug 8, 2009 at 8:44am

      JC-I couldn't disagree with you more. And by saying you wholeheartedly agree with Colin's review, I would think you would then LIKE the show as he has some strong praise for many aspects of the show.

      And maybe you don't know the music that well, as in last nights performance the keyboarder didn't miss a beat in act two. And to be honest there were no issues with sound at all, so I think they paid attention to what the reviewers said and had it fixed.

      It was brilliantly done; the acting, the music, the directing, the use of the space. As all the reviews have said, the energy is infectious and the talent is there. One word of advice though, if you are going and planning to hate the show and criticize it, then please stay home. Come with an open mind, then I can guarantee you wont be disappointed. Great job Fighting Chance Productions!

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      RentFan

      Aug 8, 2009 at 2:28pm

      I was not sure what to expect going into such a small space but this was one of the vest productions of this show I have ever seen. I saw it Friday night with a packed and VERY enthusiastic audience. I'll be going back for sure!

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      Steph Sia

      Aug 9, 2009 at 11:45pm

      I thought Craig DeCarlo (Roger) was terrible, as well as Christine Quintana who played Mimi. DeCarlo's continuous scoop-ish belting made my ears bleed and I was also uniimpressed with his acting and posture (his hands were at his side for 90% of the time he was on stage!). He possessed no stage presence at all. And although Quintana definitely looks the part, her acting and singing were not up to par. Also, the actor who played Benny (Sean Parsons) was outrageous. Did this guy even receive any formal training at all!?!? Also, some of the mics (probably three) were not working throughout the endurance of the show.

      However, I thought that Collins, Angel, Maureen, Mark and Joanne had the strongest vocals and made the show bearable...

      I rate the show a C+ (and that's being generous).

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      Close to Rent

      Aug 10, 2009 at 11:10am

      I'm working on the show and I just wanted to clarify something that Steph Sia said - those three cast members (Craig, Christine & Sean) have not performed in the show together thus far.

      Sean is an understudy for Benny and HAS gone on once in the show, but not in a performance with Craig DeCarlo OR Christine Quintana.

      Sounds like someone doesn't have their facts straight - perhaps just an ax to grind?

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      Ryan Mooney

      Aug 10, 2009 at 11:26am

      Thanks for this review Colin! I agree with a lot of it. Our sound was totally out of whack for opening, it was definitely too loud (and I'm someone who prefers it louder than softer all the time.) I do believe we've fixed a lot of the sound problems at this point. I'm proud of the fact that Fighting Chance Productions does spend money on sound when presenting a musical. I've seen far too many musicals suffer this summer from lack of sound equipment. We're obviously not able to spend a ton of money on sound gear, but we do spend a healthy amount - and that's something I'm proud of. Sound is a funny thing. People will always complain that it's too loud or too quiet. Or the band/piano is overpowering the singers, or vice versa. As I said, I do agree with the fact that it was too loud on opening. Thanks again for recognizing the talent that's on stage, despite our technical glitches.

      To the other people commenting, there's always going to be something to dislike. Rent is an iconic musical for everyone and short of casting the Original Broadway or Movie cast I have a feeling that some people would be disappointed in one of our casting decisions.

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      Jaimey

      Aug 10, 2009 at 12:04pm

      Just FYI they have understudies performing at some of the shows, because when I saw the show Roger and Mimi were two of my favorites and I believe I saw Decarlo and Quintana. Maybe you saw the understudies?

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      Steph Sia

      Aug 10, 2009 at 5:10pm

      I saw the show on Sunday night and am completely confident that DeCarlo and Quintana were performing. Not 100% sure on the actor who played Benny though.

      However, I stand by what I said as everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I wasn't criticizing Mooney's direction; in fact, I am content with how the show was presented, considering especially with the small, tight stage there was to work with. I am a huge RENT fan and it is quite natural that I was a little bit disappointed.

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      Brandi

      Aug 10, 2009 at 5:48pm

      A quick note to Ms. Steph Sia, who did all but compliment the performance by Craig DeCarlo as Roger...
      A performer myself, which brings me to the point that I may know what to look for, I have no doubt in my mind that Craig's performance is nothing other than stellar. I have not seen him perform in Rent, but I intend to based on the fact that I have seen him perform in other theatre productions. And love his performance every time! It is clear to me exactly why he would be cast as Roger in first place!
      Personal taste is one thing, a knock down however is not only in poor taste, but delivers a message that clearly states your opinion is one sided, not to mention whiney.

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