• Phoenix Theatre opens season with “Rent”

    Posted on August 27, 2013 by Jasmine Barta in Reviews.

    Photo by Phoenix Theatre

    “Rent” is possibly the most widely recognized and celebrated musical there is.

    The Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical was even adapted into a movie in which most of the original cast returned to help spread the amazing story past the confines of theater and onto the big screen.

    “Rent” is about a group of young artists and musicians struggling to survive and thrive in New York City under the pressure and fear of both poverty and HIV and AIDS. Love, hope, struggle, loss, passion and the true meaning of friendship are some of the universal themes that build the foundation of one of the best musicals ever written.

    Seeing this show on Broadway would be an irreplaceable experience, but if done correctly, any theater, big or small, can capture the magic of the production if they have a love of the show and a passion to tell its story.

    That being said, most people who purchase tickets to “Rent” will have extremely high expectations. Few have seen it on Broadway, but many have seen and love the movie.

    So the pressure on the cast members to live up to a production like this is probably much higher and scarier than I can imagine. After all, can you imagine singing a song while knowing most of the audience members are comparing you to Idina Menzel?

    I did, after all. I started off comparing Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Rent” to the movie I adored so much, but then I stopped.

    Because I became extremely impressed with Phoenix Theatre.

    Realistically, the show did have its faults. The vocals of a few musical numbers could use some improvement and a lackluster opening scene had me doubting if the cast would be able to capture the energy and spirit of Rent at all.

    But the cast surprised me. After a couple of scenes I found my frown turning into a smile as I was completely charmed — a permanent grin etched on my face throughout the show.

    What must have been opening-number nerves wore off quickly and the cast’s passion for the show and its music shined through so brightly that each and every character transformed in my eyes into the characters of “Rent” I love.

    Apart from the storyline and truly lovable characters, what really makes “Rent” is the music. It’s lively, gorgeous and harmonic, and a lot of it is rock ‘n’ roll.

    I enjoyed nearly every number, but there were some definite standout vocal performances and actors who were able to truly bring their characters to life in a way that surpassed the rest of the cast.

    Marisha Castle, who played Mimi, was beyond stunning. My only critique to her would be to work to improve her vocals while dancing, but I have no doubt of how extremely difficult is it to dance up and down a set of stairs while singing such a high-energy song as “Out Tonight.”

    Castle is not only an extremely gifted actress who captured Mimi’s essence perfectly, but she has a singing voice that can bring tears to your eyes and inspiration to your heart. “Without You” won me over and it was easily the best vocal performance of the night.

    Jeffrey Wei, who portrayed Angel, also gave a performance worthy of a standing applause. He’s a natural singer, but it was really his acting that helped make the show. His character is supposed to be one of the most loved, and he succeeded.

    There were two songs I was really looking forward to when I took my seat: “Seasons of Love” and “Take Me or Leave Me.”

    “Seasons of Love” did not disappoint. The harmonies were beautiful and the song evoked the kind of emotion out of the audience only a perfectly performed ballad can. If I could have paused the show and played that song again, I would have.

    The second song, “Take Me or Leave Me,” was a bit disappointing. The vocals weren’t bad and the number was entertaining to watch, but the relationship between the two characters wasn’t believable for me.

    The song is sung by two female characters, Maureen and Joanne, who are in a tumultuous relationship, but the passion and chemistry the two characters should have had didn’t ever really present itself throughout the show.

    That’s not to say the actors weren’t talented. Jenny Hintze, who plays Maureen, had a scene that had the whole audience trying to catch their breath from laughter, and Yolanda London, who portrays Joanne, was absolutely brilliant in “Tango: Maureen” with Lucas Coatney, who plays Mark, Maureen’s ex-boyfriend.

    You shouldn’t walk into this show expecting it to be flawless or for the actors to upstage the original Broadway or film cast, because both were pure perfection. However, the actors for this production were excellently cast and it would be hard to find an ensemble off Broadway who could capture the story and emotion of “Rent” as well as the cast of Phoenix Theatre has.

    The show runs through Sept. 15. I urge everyone to purchase tickets.

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