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.