Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

RENT Off Broadway: AKA: Proof You Can't Go Back

Every so often in life, something comes along that you really connect with, be it a movie, a song, a tv show, a piece of theatre, it appears at a time in your life and is exactly what you need. For me it happened during the summer after my junior year of high school, the something was the Broadway Production of Rent.

I'm not entirely sure of what it was that drew me in so deeply, but I loved not only the show, but the people. It was a community, in fact to this day I am still in contact with several people I met through the show, more so than people I grew up with, including my best friend, who if not for this shared love, we probably never would have met.

July 2002
I never really liked the term "RENT Head", it has always held a negative connotation in my mind, but I, and my little group of friends, clearly spent way more time than a normal person outside that neon green theatre. It was a common meeting place for us, even if we were going out somewhere else.

There was one summer where I would get out of work early and having time to kill would go sit under the big cast poster at the theatre, usually writing something in the journal I carried around everywhere. I didn't really care who came by, and I didn't go out of my way to stop any cast members coming in, it was just a place to be. I felt safe there, it was a home a way from home, the closest thing I had to a Cheers, a place where everybody knows your name, I guess.

September 200
When the show closed on Broadway back on September 7th, 2008, I along with many of the people I had come to know and love, were there, coming to say "Goodbye, Love" one last time. I was sad to see it end, but I personally looked at it as closing a chapter of my life. A crazy, fun amazing chapter at that.

So why have I bored you all with the trip down memory lane? Well, Monday night I sucked it up and went to see the current Off Broadway production of RENT at New World Stages. I figure before giving my opinion of the new production, it's only fair to let you know where I'm coming from...

Last Show, 2nd Row Center
I had a few friends who had gone to see it around opening and invited me along, but I had held off because the ticket price was too high. I had no intention of spending more money to see it Off Broadway then I had ever spent to see it on.

The show itself felt VERY different from the original, to me at least. The original production was very minimalist, where as this incarnation, has TONS of multimedia elements and props. In a way it felt much less intimate to me, and FAR more sexual. Roger and Mimi alternately looked as they were going to rape one another,  and Contact made me feel as though I was about to watch porn.

I missed the tenderness of the original, a perfect example of this was during "I'll Cover You" in the first act. In the original, as Collins and Angel are confessing their feelings for one another, they are constantly touching each other...not in a sexual manner but in the way that when you fall for someone all you want to do is to be near them, to hold them, eventually leading up in the culmination of their first kiss. This new version had them running around set, climbing on things, and it gave the appearance more of them singing at each other as opposed to to each other.

Michael McElroy & Justin Johnston

Although they upped the prop usage, they took away things that I always thought were important, prime example being that in this new version, Collins did not have his coat in "I'll Cover You Reprise". In the Broadway version, he would clutch the coat tightly in his arms as he sang, Angel had bout the coat for him and it was all he had left of his love. They also added Angel perched above the cast during that song, which I thought took away from the fact he was gone.

Mark's camera was a newer one from the Broadway days, which allowed them to do some cool media effects with it, however it also meant he carried it around for most of the show in a satchel, or man purse. My favorite Marks on Broadway had always been the one who constantly had their camera out. Filming all sorts of goings on. Mark after all is the narrator, he even occasionally speaks in narration, "Mimi still loves Roger, is Roger really jealous or afraid that Mimi's weak." Having the camera packed away most of the time took away that aspect of his personality.

The addition/removal of certain lines, threw me a bit for a loop, as did the changing of the ensemble tracks, but I don't supposed the casual theatre goer would notice or care.  I HATE the whole Greek chorus effect they added to the Eulogies. It's creepy having that many people  I wasn't a fan of some of the costumes either, Angel's in particular. They made him look less feminine and more like Miss J from America's Next Top Model, which I think alienates the character a bit.  Roger looked as though he was wearing leggings the whole show...le sigh I missed the plaid pants...

Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/New York Times
Adam Chanler-Berat played an adorable, stoner Mark, and too me was the stand out of the show. "What You Own came off as Mark's song, with Roger merely being there. That song also featured the one bit of new choreography I really liked. Where Roger and Mark are in this spinning box/cage and Mark reaches up and Roger reaches down and there hands are almost touching. I know that sounds really weird, but if you were to watch the show, you'd totally get it.

Matt Shingledecker as Roger isn't really my first choice, or 41st choice for that matter. And I DEFINITELY could have lived without EVER seeing Arianda Fernandez as Mimi again. I had seen her on tour several years back, and had successfully repressed her performance from my mind, the min she opened her mouth in "Light My Candle" it all came flooding back, like my own personal Nam... Her voice isn't made to sing those notes, and she doesn't seem to have much of a belt voice either...

MJ Rodriguez as Angel
Ephraim Sykes, as Benny made my heart happy. I'm the weird girl, who has thought way further into Benny's character than most, and for the first time since I last saw Stu James in the role on Broadway, did I actually feel for Benny. 

I liked M J Rodriguez as Angel, however found myself to distracted by the hideodious costume to really enjoy his performance. I mean what was that? A coat? A Scarf? A Cape?

Annaleigh Ashford made a cute Maureen. She definitely played her more on the kooky side, which I appreciate.

The rest of the cast was good, but none of them particularly stood out in my mind. The staging seemed to busy to me, everything seemed more about making money off the flashy new effects than the actual heart and soul of the show which is the characters and their relationships. 

So there you have it, my slightly biased impression of the new production. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it is a bad production, it's just that for me, it no longer holds the same magic it did for me before. I know that there are people who will see this production, and feel what I felt for the original, and think this version is "Better" and that's great, that's fine, that's how it should be. 
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/New York Times

No comments:

Post a Comment