Directed by Michael Greif
Starring Kevin Spencer, Ashton Holmes, Bruce Wilson, and Krystal
A group of friends cope with poverty, HIV and joy as they are
evicted from their apartment building.
While there seemed to be a substantial
story, the acting and the technical part of the production were
I disliked more about this show than I liked. I don't think I clapped at
an entire scene when it was over. When part of the audience tried to
give a standing ovation, even though I couldn't see in front of me to
the stage anymore, there was no way I was going to stand for this
My first complaint came for the actors playing Mark and Roger. They had
terrible voices, both when talking and when singing. I cringed every
time. I know they were supposed to look like struggling artists, but
they looked terrible, as well. They couldn't show proper emotion,
whether it was anger, love or regret. I saw nothing in them. They were
supposed to carry the show, and I felt that they were not strong enough
to do that.
However, at least I could understand what they were saying, most of the
time, even when they were singing. When the combined cast came onto the
stage, to sing the main theme, "Rent", I didn't understand a single
word. It didn't get any better, either, as the show went on. Even in the
second act, except for the well-known "Seasons of Love", all the voices
intermixed, and the music overpowered everything.
I am not a fan of talking in a sing-song voice, but I can stand it when
done well. In this case, it was anything but. Mark's mother was funny on
the telephone, but the others didn't have enough talent to save the
material. The overused technique of having the narrator, in this case
Mark, tell us what is happening really detracts from the show. Why
couldn't we get the scene setting or character backgrounds in dialog
form? Surely the writers could have come up with some snappy dialog like
"happy one week anniversary" to indicate that a week has passed, instead
of Mark's "fast forward one week..."
Even the humor fell flat, though much of the audience seemed to get a
kick out of it. Most of the humor came in the form of physical gestures,
obscene ones, and foul language coming from unexpected sources. Why is
that funny? Maybe the first time, like the evicted homeless woman's
outburst. But time after time? I don't think so. Maureen's gestures must
have come from some Saturday Night Live skit that I've never seen,
because all she had to do was bend her arms in a certain way and the
audience burst into laughter. There were only a couple of parts where I
was even faintly amused.
What's left to complain about except the writing... Most of the songs
sounded as if they were actually written by Mark or Roger, burned out
juvenile artists with no creative talent whatsoever. Rhymes were made
from unrelated concepts, just to make a rhyme, it seems. So-called songs
were really just meaningless chatter set to music. There was little in
the way of substance or emotional punch to most of the songs, and a lot
And yet, there was some beauty involved in this production. The first
moment that softened my heart to the story was the introduction of Mimi.
She has a magnificent voice, especially when singing her introductory
song, "Light My Candle". Wow, I was amazed. But then the producers put
her in a slutty outfit and removed everything that was sexy about her.
She came back to life after being spurned between Roger and her former
I didn't understand Benny's motivations or turns in this show. He bought
the building so that he could turn it into a cyber-studio, and then
turned around and offered his evicted friends free rent. In the second
act, after padlocking the building, he turns around again and opens it
back up to everybody who lived there. He gains nothing except the scorn
of his friends, though they seem to have forgiven him by the end.
The pair of actors who played Collins and Angel were probably the best
in the show. How the transvestite Angel managed to do both the male and
female parts is beyond me, because he was great in both. He really
looked indistinguishable from a woman, except for the "something is
wrong but I can't place it" thought that comes from looking at him. The
make-up department had something to do with that, but most of it comes
straight from the actor, who put the nuances and just the right touches
into the part. Collins, his gay lover, was very emotional, and played
the part well.
Lesbian lovers Maureen and Joanne played their parts reasonably well,
also. I sympathized more with Joanne, because she was more withdrawn,
emotional, and better acted. I didn't like the character of Maureen,
though I think she was played with the proper attitudes for her
character. Maureen used to date Mark, and comes to his rescue with a
protest performance against Benny's eviction of his tenants. She was
obviously supposed to be beautiful, but I didn't see it. Aside from her
massive bust and tiny waist, which are typical signs that I disagree
with anyway, she was loud and raucous, insolent, and I found nothing to
like about her.
Over the year, the group breaks up. The "family" really only came
together when the building was threatened, yet they seem to think that
Angel and Mimi are the glue holding the group together. When Angel dies
of AIDS, the group starts to fragment. Roger comes back from California
in time to help bring Mimi back from her AIDS near-death, because of her
drug use. His song, the one that brought her back from "the light" -a
terrible cliché terribly played- was also terrible.
And Mark gets his big break, working for a television studio, a job that
he quits to make his own film, a true "artsy" film with no plot, just
supposed emotion, and without the context to make it meaningful for
anybody who didn't know the story of this family.
The production ends much the way it started, meaning nowhere in
particular. Mimi and Roger are back together after he brought her back.
Collins is sad, but refuses to make Angel's sacrifice meaningless -what
sacrifice? He died of AIDS, not trying to bring about a better world -or
if he did, we didn't get to see it. His was a tragedy, not a sacrifice.
Maureen and Joanne break up many times, but finally realize they need
each other. As for Benny and Mark, I don't really know if they learned
anything, or if they have any dreams left. Mark made his movie, but
Benny didn't get his cyber studio. Not that I care.
As I said, there was more here that I didn't like than I did. There was
some beautiful music in this production, but too often it was marred by
poor singing or lyrics. The set was beautifully simple, especially when
more than one thing was going on at a time. The heavy-set black woman
who played the homeless woman and one of the ensemble cast had a
magnificent voice, especially when singing as part of "Seasons of Love."
I would have liked to hear more of her. It was also interesting to note
that all of the couples were inter-racial, from Roger and Mimi, Maureen
and Joanne, and Collins and Angel.
But I found the spotlights to be too distracting (this is not a
balcony-friendly show), the writing to be poor for the most part, and
the acting from the two leads to be sorely lacking. There is enough to
enjoy about this show, especially for people who may identify with the
characters or story, but I did neither, and was not impressed enough to
try. As such, I left feeling sorely disappointed, and I'm sorry for
that. Other people I know loved the production, leaving me to wonder
what they saw that I didn't.