What’s thirty? Just, you know, the end of youth.

It was August 24th, 2001, two-ish weeks before 9/11, when I was offered tickets to see the off-broadway production of Jonathan Larson’s tick… tick..BOOM! I was 15 and seeing Rent more often than not. My cousin, who lived on Christopher Street in Sheridan Square at the time, let me stay with her and walked me up West 4th Street, teaching me how to find my way around the crazy maze that is that West Village.

I made a sorta-last minute decision to buy tickets for Kristen and myself to the Encores’ staging of it which opened tonight. And I’m very glad I did. It was a trip down memory lane and I still remembered almost every word. The staging was almost the same as the also very minimalistic production at the Jane Street Theater.

Leslie Odom Jr. (now of Smash fame, though he was actually in Rent long ago) took on the role of Jon’s best friend Michael. He acted the part excellently and sounded great. Karen Olivo absolutely brought the house down with the 11 o’clock number “Come To Your Senses,” although she was primarily playing Jon’s girlfriend Susan.

And then there was Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jon. Sort of a big deal has been made in the theatre world lately about him paying tribute to Jonathan Larson and I get it. They’re both young composers who wrote ground-breaking musicals. Yes, I get it. So I was expecting a stellar performance, and emotionally and acting-wise, it was. Miranda was great on that level. Vocally? He was mediocre (at best). He got through In The Heights because it was mostly rap but how can you take over a role originated by the vocal brilliance of Raul Esparza and have virtually no upper register or any ability to hold notes for any sustained period of time? He was vocally disappointing. He also wore a beanie which was confusing because in all of the photos that I’ve ever seen of Jonathan Larson, he did not, ever wear a beanie. 

ttB! struck a new chord with me because I was 15 last time I saw it and now I’m less than two years away from being 30. It’s also largely about the really tough choice to pursue your dreams or abandon it in favor of a stable and oftentimes boring career. Anyone who works in the arts can tell you that you don’t do it for money, you do it for love, because we don’t make a lot of money (unless you’re Sondheim, Webber, or David Stone, of course). I also didn’t understand this quote when I was 15, but I understand it fully now:

It’s hard for people born after 1960 to be idealistic or original. We know what happens to ideals. They’re assassinated or corrupted or co-opted. It’s 1990 for God’s sake. It is not an exciting period. It is not a period of ferment. It’s fucking stodgy is what it is – conservative, complacent, obtuse and unimaginative. Or, to put it another way: George Bush is president of the United States.”

This was a lovely, emotional trip to an old favorite of mine that resonated with new meaning almost 15 years later. Totally worth the $27. 

It plays through Saturday – get your tickets now!

Brooklyn’s Gallery Players Will Stage Reinvented Rent; Casting Announced – Playbill.com

Well this sounds… interesting. If I remember, I’ll try to make it to Brooklyn to see this. 

Brooklyn’s Gallery Players Will Stage Reinvented Rent; Casting Announced – Playbill.com

Smash: The Phenomenon

I haven’t been watching Smash this season (because… the writing, just.. enough said) but when I saw a former classmate complain how they blatantly ripped off Rent and the backstory on last night’s episode, I was intrigued and went on Hulu to watch it.

I was a little lost, to say the least, but as soon as they announced that one of the writers of their show had died, it immediately resonated with me. I remember reading about Rent’s road to New York Theatre Workshop, Jonathan Larson’s death, the transfer to Broadway, and everything else when I was 11. I poured over the “bible,” as it was called, for hours, reading all of the passages. Years later when I befriended a person who happened to be an original cast member since it’s off-Broadway production, I asked in an interview with him once, “What did it feel like when you heard that Jonathan had died?” And all he could say was, “I felt like I lost a very good friend.”

One of the complaints was that last night’s episode ripped off the backstory of Rent without even acknowledging the show. Well, I think it would’ve been a bit too cheesy, and more meta than necessary, to add in a line something like, “this is exactly like what happened to Rent!”

Duh. We’re theatre people watching this show. And if we’re good theatre people, we know the story. On the wall of Jesse L. Martin’s character’s office was a Rent poster from the run at New York Theatre Workshop. I think that was homage-paying enough. 

I think Smash is horribly written, but I appreciated this episode. It was a flashback to the mid-late nineties and my childhood. 

Smash: The Phenomenon

It’s Back.

I’m still trying to process what I saw on Thursday night, August 14th.  Rent, the show that meant the world to me as a teenager, re-opened off-Broadway after a three year hiatus from being performed in New York.  

When producer Kevin McCollum spoke to us during CTI, he told us that since Rent had closed in New York HIV-infection rates and the number of hate crimes had both gone up.  So he thought that New York needed Rent again.  There’s also a huge demand, according to director Michael Greif in a recent interview with TONY, among the 12-16 year old crowd.  The crowd at New World Stages on Thursday certainly proved that was true .  New World Stages had no idea how to prepare for the sheer volume of patrons because it took a long time for them to get everyone into the theatre.

Andy Senor (Jr), a former cast member from the ‘00-’02 years (I think), was present and we nodded at one another solidarity and remembrance of the ‘old days’ but I couldn’t think of anything to say to him so I didn’t approach him.  I could’ve sworn I also saw Kevin Cahoon (another blast from the past, but not from Rent) in the back of the orchestra.  My best friend John and I (we met at the show in 2002) went in with mixed emotions and were literally dumfounded to find that we were seated directly next to two friends from “back in the day.”  They kept saying, “It’s just like the front row!  Exactly the same, but totally different.”  Greif was also seated directly across from us on the aisle, taking notes.  

There was a huge amount of energy when the lights first went down, we were all excited.  John and I held hands, and our breath, as Adam Chanler Berat, dressed in a completely different outfit (sans any scarf) took center stage and began the show. 

There were three costume pieces brought back from the Broadway production and those were the only similarities in this production.  The set looks more like the set for Next to Normal than the original set, and the lighting is much more neon than reddish-orange.  The band now sits upstage on the second level of the set and sounds a bit poppy-er, and the synthesized parts sound a bit crisper.  There’s new choreography.  Bits of the instrumental parts for songs, like Christmas Bells, have been cut.  There are a plethora of productions.  I liked them [the productions] in the first act, but they were a bit much in the second act.  Lastly, the show is set in a specific year.  December 24th, 1991, 9pm.  My thoughts on the cast:

Adam Chanler Berat (Mark): He was fantastic.  I really, really enjoyed his performance.  He has a great voice, obviously.  He was a much, MUCH younger take on the role than anyone I’ve seen before.  I think he’ll continue to grow into the role physically but other than that bit of physicality he was really fantastic.

Matthew Shingledecker (Roger): Wow.  We had no idea what to expect from this actor who was basically an unknown talent but from the moment he opened his mouth, we were won over.  He has a great voice with the perfect blend of rock and musical theatre.  He looks the part and acts it greatly.  Another fun aspect of him onstage?  His pants. His character doesn’t loose plaid pants anymore, he wear skin tight green skinny jeans.  They are really, really tight.  I digress: He was great and I was impressed.

Nicholas Christopher (Tom Collins): He’s the appropriate age for the character, a great actor, very funny, and he has a unbelievable voice.  He also has terrific and believable chemistry with MJ Rodriguez, who plays Angel.

Ephraim Sykes (Benjamin Coffin III): He’s SO young.  He has a great voice and has a good grasp on the roles physicality but he’s SO young.  I can’t imagine any father-in-law allowing him to join the family company and buy an entire apartment building to build into a cyber studio.  He no longer wears a puffy jacket – it’s more fitted.  

Corbin Reid (Joanne Jefferson): She is completely unrecognizable from her stint in American Idiot.  She is great in the role, very mature, but needs to work on her belt a bit more (especially during the end of “We’re Okay”).

MJ Rodriguez (Angel): He has a fantastic voice, and he really acts the role incredibly well.  I’m afraid he might look a bit too old for the role though.  The audience is torn when he loses his battle with AIDS and excited when he arrives onstage again at the end of the show.

Arianda Fernandez (Mimi): I was unimpressed with her voice during Light My Candle, but it got better.  She doesn’t have the belt 100% developed for the material yet but I hope she’ll get there.  For the first time ever, the actress playing Mimi looks her actual age (19).  Her take on the character was spot-on too.  I have to admit though: I missed the character’s blue pants during Out Tonight though.  

Annaleigh Ashford (Maureen): Her Over the Moon was completely fresh, original, and hilarious.  I loved her take on the character.  Her acting fantastic.  I really enjoyed her vocally for the most part too, although I felt she wasn’t powerful enough during Take Me Or Leave Me.  She was definitely not a disappointment though.

Morgan Weed, Ben Thompson, Marcus Paul James, Tamika Sonja Lawrence, Michael Wartella, and Genny Lis Padilla rounded out the cast as the ensemble and were all equally enjoyable and they worked well together to form a family.

I’m not sure when I got older than almost every single actor on that stage, but it was very weird.  All of us in Row M concurred on this fact.  Last time we checked, we were 16 and sitting in the front row at the Nederlander Theatre.

I definitely want to go back and see it once it’s opened and the cast has gotten comfortable.  If you have any kind of a history with the show in it’s original Broadway run, take a chance on this.  And if you have you memory of this show on Broadway, this is an excellent first exposure to it. 

Rent, it’s nice to have you back in New York.  

Before I saw Time Stands Still last Wednesday night, I saw Without You (part of this year’s NYMF) in the late afternoon at the TBG Theatre on 36th Street.  Without You is an autobiographical one-man show written and performed by the always-impressive Anthony Rapp.    I never got around to seeing it at Ars Nova or while on tour, so I was excited to see it.  

The action starts with Rapp being late to his audition for the original 1994 reading of Rent at New York Theatre Workshop.  He goes into detail about his life, love, the development of Rent, his blooming friendship with it’s author, Jonathan Larson, and most importantly, his relationship with his mother and her health declined after being diagnosed with cancer.  All the while the dialogue is broken up with songs from Rent or songs from his original album released in 2000 titled Look Around.  

Having read Without You (his book, released in 2006) and being a former “Renthead,” I knew most of the stories he told and of course, I knew all of the music.  It was really nice to hear songs from Look Around and seeing them performed helped put them in context.  Especially (the song) Always, which was always (no pun intended) a favorite of mine.  

Rapp was spot on with his portrayals of his mother, director Michael Grief, and Cy O’Neal (founder of Friends in Deed).  He transitioned characters with ease.  By the time Rapp sang Seasons of Love as a finale, he had the audience in his hands, all of whom stood when he bowed.

I’m not sure where this could go commercially because it’s such an intimate show it wouldn’t be appropriate to put in an 1100 seat Broadway house.  I think it would have a sold-out run at Roundabout’s black box theatre on 46th Street, or even more appropriately, it could be part of NYTW’s next season.  

There are still a number of performances left, but unfortunately they’re all sold out.  If you’re lucky though, you could grab a ticket if there are any cancellations prior to the show.  

(image via)