NME Review: Rent - A Raw and Intimate Musical Experience
When Rent opened at the Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996, nobody could have predicted the global phenomenon it would become. This powerful story of art and love over capitalism resonated with audiences worldwide, leading to an impressive 5,000 performances and a 12-year run on Broadway. The musical received critical acclaim, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS) has brought a fresh and unique perspective to this adored musical. Performing in their black box theater, MTS has created an intimate experience that allows the audience to immerse themselves in the magic of Rent. Co-directors April Ball and Jonathan Ragsdale have masterfully captured the raw and gritty essence of the show, making it even more poignant than ever before.
Securing the rights to Rent was a challenge for MTS. With little over a month and a half to assemble a band and cast, this is a big task to take on. However, their dedication and passion for the musical shone through, resulting in a production that exceeded expectations. The anticipation for this performance has been building since the announcement in July, and finally, the moment has arrived.
The opening, despite some minor timing issues, was strong. Ragsdale’s choreography and staging worked seamlessly, creating a visually captivating experience. It quickly became evident that the cast members and ensemble chosen for these roles possess exceptional singing abilities, with the harmonies being particularly exquisite. April Ball's outstanding work as musical director is evident throughout the production.
Several standout performances and numbers deserve special mention. "The Tango Maureen" showcased the perfect comic and musical timing of Paul Ashby as Mark and Tasha Booth as Joanne. "Santa Fe" was wonderfully staged and executed, with Kenneth Davis Jr. delivering a soulful and magnetic performance as Tom Collins. Adrienne Cohen brought Mimi to life with her captivating performance of "Out Tonight," although there were moments where she played it safe and could have pushed the role further.
Christy Burbank's portrayal of Maureen was a refreshing take on the character. Her vocal prowess and impeccable comedic timing made her performance memorable. "Over the Moon" was a standout moment, showcasing Burbank's talent and adding a real performing arts piece to the production. The duet "Take Me or Leave Me" between Burbank and Booth was explosive, with their energy captivating the audience. The chemistry between Jesse Miller and Cohen as Roger and Mimi was felt, particularly evident in "Without You" and "No Day But Today."
Even with limited stage time, Xavier Visage's portrayal of Benny stood out with his 90s B-Boy feel. The last number that deserves special mention is "Seasons of Love," the pinnacle of the Rent catalog. The staging and movement were beautiful, and the harmonies were on point, creating a mesmerizing experience for the audience.
Robert Carbajal faced the daunting task of playing the iconic character of Angel, and he did so with grace and authenticity. “Today 4 U” delighted. His moments in “It’s Beginning to Snow” and “Santa Fe” will make you chuckle. His performances made us laugh, cry, and feel proud. The chemistry between Carbajal and Davis as Collins and Angel, one of Broadway's most beautiful love stories, could be further developed to enhance their connection on stage. As their bond grows, Davis's performance of "I Will Cover You (Reprise)" will become even more powerful and emotionally charged.
Considering the ambitious nature of this community theater production, we must acknowledge the tremendous effort by MTS. From assembling a live band to creating a cohesive family of performers, they have taken on a significant challenge. While there were some rough moments, particularly in the numbers featuring Miller as Roger, it is clear that the production is continuously improving. The balance between the band and vocals needs fine-tuning to showcase Miller's talent. Similarly, "Glory" presented a musical roller coaster, with the melody and guitar effects requiring better synchronization between Miller and the band. However, it will resolve as the show progresses.
Musical Theatre Southwest's production of Rent offers a raw and intimate experience that allows the audience to connect with the story and characters. Despite the challenge of making this show happen, the dedication and passion of the cast and crew shine through. Over time, the production will grow stronger, delivering a memorable and powerful experience for all who attend.
Rent runs until December 31st at Musical Theatre Southwest. Visit mtsabq.org for information and to purchase tickets.