There are times when one hears that a community theatre is taking on a monumental production and winces; inwardly questioning their ability to do justice to such a massive show.
A show that, when it opened on Broadway in 1996, was shocking to many and enlightening to even more; but in all cases, an instant success.
With the inaugural production of their season, CenterStage presents RENT, winner of the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical.
And, while this isn’t that 1996 Broadway production, the folks at the JCC certainly show that they are more than capable to mount the musical.
They indeed do it justice.
Jonathan Larson, the playwright of RENT (now deceased), has whittled down this complex set of characters to a one-line summary of the play. He said, “RENT is about a community celebrating life, in the face of death and AIDS, at the turn of the century.”
And so it is. With heart-wrenching emotion and strength, the 15 cast members, led by Brian Bowles as filmmaker Mark Cohen and roommate Roger Davis (Jordan Price) guide the audience through a desperate year in their lives; one marked by threats of homelessness, fear of disease, and just a little bit of hope.
The ensemble, led by Musical Director Angie Hopperton, is to be commended for their solid grasp of the music of the piece.
In a production where 95% of the story is sung, diction and clarity of voice is crucial. With the small exception of the accelerated lyrics in La Vie Boheme, the cast told the story beautifully, with the ease of an everyday conversation.
RENT tackles difficult relationships and puts them on display for the entire audience to see. The CenterStage production does not attempt to sugar-coat; nor do the actors shy away from what for many could be awkward.
Instead, this capable cast, guided by Artistic Director John R. Leffert, obviously spent the time necessary to become comfortable with their roles and with each other.
That ease and trust is more than obvious onstage, and turns the attention away from the individual actors and back, appropriately, onto the story being told.
While each member of this stellar cast deserves individual mention, it is their strength as an ensemble that is truly noteworthy.
To be sure, RENT is a terrific production. But it is not a show for your 10-year old.
The subject matter centers on adult relationships, HIV/AIDS, drug use and homelessness. The production is very sexually suggestive, has strong language, and includes one brief moment of posterior nudity.
Following in the tradition of many theatres that produce this play, CenterStage is taking up a collection after each show, and will be donating all money collected to Louisville’s House of Ruth and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
With RENT, CenterStage successfully opens their new season, with their new slogan, “Opening minds one act at a time.”
Congratulations, CenterStage. And thank you.
CenterStage’s production of RENT at the Jewish Community Center runs through July 29th. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door. They may be purchased online or by calling 502-459-0660.
$10 Rush Tickets are available for select performances, and must be purchased in person at the front desk of the Jewish Community Center.
All seats at RENT are general admission.
Image: Courtesy JCC of Louisville