SALT LAKE CITY — Friday night opened to a full house for Pioneer Theater Company’s final show of the season, Jonathan Larson‘s, RENT. Director Karen Azenberg returns to PTC bringing her experience and talent to bare on this modern rock musical. RENT, based off of the Puccini opera La Bohème, is set around one year in the lives of roommates Mark and Roger. Mark, an aspiring film director, and Roger, the struggling musician, live the epitome of the bohemian lifestyle in their flat on Avenue A in modern day New York City. Starving and cold on Christmas Eve the lights go up to the thrum of the guitar.
First I must confess, I find it difficult to approach reviewing a show objectively. It’s become easy to lose track of the story and slip into focusing on the hair/makeup/ vocals etc. Near the start of the evening I found myself ignoring the performance to dissect. Though quickly my attention was pulled to the show’s narrator, Mark Cohen (played by Andy Mientus). When I turned my focus onto Mientus, I was thrown back into the story and away from nitpicking because his performance was phenomenal. From beginning to end his vocals were solid. Not once did I find myself worrying if he could handle the wide vocal range required by his role. Mientus blended well with his fellow cast members both in vocals as well as character. His characterization of the young film director to be was spot on.
Mientus’ performance was only bolstered by his interactions and vocal performances with counterparts, Maureen (Rachel Moulton) and Joanne (Adrienne Muller). Maureen, Mark’s former girlfriend, has just settled in with her new love, Joanne. The dynamics of such a triad were played to remarkable effect. The Tango Maureen, performed by Mientus and Muller, displayed an astonishing vocal combo to the amusement of the situation that Maureen’s lovers find themselves in. Moulton’s Maureen was over the top, radical and sexy. She brought the audience to cheers, laughter and even a few cat calls (not to forget she got them to moo, too). But never did she overplay her part, creating a fantastic balance with Mark and Joanne.
The cast sported an amazing amount of talent, though not surprising given PTC’s reputation. Nik Walker displayed an impressive vocal performance as Tom Collins coupled with his love interest, Angel (Jason Gotay), the powerfully touching queen that holds the characters together (And does it in platforms, no less).
While I did struggle with the chemistry between Roger (Fabio Monteiro) and Mimi (Halle Morse), the show’s “it couple.” I put the lack of chemistry down to Azenburg’s direction and blocking. It felt that they never had any physical contact unless absolutely necessary which created a visual rift between the two lovers. Also, they were frequently cheating to the audience instead of singing to each other. But, despite any issues with interaction not once did either of their songs falter or fall short of the mark. In fact Monteiro’s vocal dynamic exceeded my expectations. The show’s ensemble deserve the same credit when it came to exceeding my expectations in sound. Boasting a large cast of local talent, the ensemble was a powerhouse of vocals featuring some performances by Ginger Bess, Daniel Dimons and Latoya Rhodes that will take your breath away.
The setting for Rent is the neighborhoods of Manhattan. With an elaborately constructed industrial set, created by resident set designer George Maxwell, the environment was captured perfectly. From Angel’s “Christmas Tree” to the catwalk to the warehouse doors, the versatile set supports the grunge look that you’d associate with the streets of New York. The lighting set up, done by Michael Gilliam, was as versatile and creative as the set. Costumes, by Brenda Van Der Wiel, were colorful/distressed/raggedy and perfectly tailored to fit the look RENT is known for.
This show’s weakest point was sound. I found that I had to keep my ears peeled half the time just to catch lines and phrases. The body mics could definitely stand to be bumped up a few notches.
Azenberg kept this show very busy with the choreography and movement of actors on stage. At times the extra motion detracted from the performance. But I applaud the asides/tableaus created to enhance the story and supplement character development. One in particular, during the song Will I?, brought me to tears.
The overall effect of this show did hit home. Sending out the message to keep close the ones you love because you never know which moment will be your last. This family of characters evokes emotion from the entire audience sending everyone into tears over the reprise of “I’ll Cover You.” Pioneer’s RENT does justice to the show’s name. “No day but today!”
Disclaimer: This show contains adult themes including nudity, sexual themes, drug references and vulgarity.