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.