Dramateurs’ Production of RENT at the Barn is a Sensation!

by Kelly Thunstrom

Who could have predicted that Jonathan Larson’s RENT would have turned into the worldwide sensation it has turned into? RENT is not only Larson’s baby, having written the book and the score, but it is also his legacy. Larson died unexpectedly at age 35 of an aortic aneuryism before RENT opened. However, the show must go on, and RENT became a phenomenon, winning the Tony Award in 1996 and playing for 12 years on Broadway. Loving the musical as much as I do, knowing every word to every song, and having never seen it anywhere but Broadway, I was extremely skeptical to see it in a community theater. Well, I am here to tell you that I am officially eating crow.

The cast of The Dramateurs' production of RENT, playing at the Barn Playhouse in Jeffersonville PA through May 21.

Directed by Steve DiNenno, RENT is gritty, edgy, and maybe not for everyone (definitely not children). However, it will give you an experience like none other, making you appreciative of every second you have on this Earth. The set is minimalist, but very authentic to New York at the end of the millenium. The musicians can be seen throughout the show behind a screen. The stories of RENT are basically told through Mark (Ryan Tygh), as the narrator, and his video camera lens. Roger (John Jerbasi) is the “bad boy” with the heart of gold who just wants to write one song to give him glory before he dies of the disease running rampant. Roger recognizes Mimi’s (Tara Bennett) drug-addicted symptoms in himself, but does not want to admit to himself that he is falling for her. Tom Collins (Marquis L. Cole) falls in love with Angel (Will Scantling). Angel always brings such humor to RENT, and just wants everyone to be happy. The second act is a sharp contrast as Angel is slowly dying of AIDS. Joanne (Ashli Rian Rice) is trying to help her girlfriend, Maureen (Krista Boshinski) set up for her protest piece at the end of the first act, and is not happy that she has to do it with Mark, Maureen’s ex. Three couples…so simple, but as the world knows, love is never easy.

The company sets the tone for the entire musical with the opening number “Rent”…an “in-your face” type song, which always lets the audience know that Rodgers and Hammerstein this is not. While “One Song Glory” (and “Without You” in the second act) were beautifully sung, I was hoping for less “Broadway belter” style and more anger and melancholy. Roger wants that one last song to leave his legacy, and during “Without You”, Angel is getting sicker and sicker. The ensemble in RENT is just as much a part of the show as the couples, playing multiple parts. Nowhere were their voices shown off more than in “Will I?”, the hauntingly beautiful song that asks if they will lose their dignity or ever wake from the nightmare that has become their life. The first act ends with the joyous, second most popular song in RENT, “La Vie Boheme”. 525,600 minutes…”Seasons of Love”, RENT’s signature song, opens the second act. It is so difficult not to be moved by this song, and many audience members (including myself) were clapping along. My favorite song in RENT, “Finale B”, wraps everything up with Angel right back where he (she?) should be. I was interested to see what they would do with Mark’s film that is shown at the end. It was a little difficult to see on the wall. As the film is so important to the message of RENT, I might suggest dimming the lights slightly.

While everyone in the Dramateurs’ production of RENT seemed to have worked tirelessly to bring Larson’s vision to life, I must single out three actors in particular. There have been so many Rogers, so many Marks, so many Mimis, so many Maureens, and I firmly believe that in this show in particular, one needs to be incredible ingrained in their character. Each is so different, but fighting for the same thing…dignity. Ryan Tygh, to me, embodies the character of Mark astonishingly well. His duet with Ashli Rian Rice in the “Tango Maureen” was hilarious. Rice is a powerhouse singer, making “We’re Okay” seem easy. The always fun to watch duet with Maureen, “Take Me or Leave Me”, left me speechless with both singers’ capabilities. However, nowhere, absolutely nowhere, was I more moved than watching Marquis L. Cole, as Tom Collins, sing the “I’ll Cover You” reprise. That song is so joyful in the first act, with Collins and Angel singing it to each other. Cole turns it into a song dripping with so much raw emotion in the second act, that you almost feel like you are intruding on someone else’s grief.

RENT has closed on Broadway. Who knows if it will ever come back? Your chance to see a Broadway-caliber production of RENT is in your community at the Barn. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by, as there is “no day but today”.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Steve DiNenno 
May 6 – 21, 2011
The Dramateurs, Inc.
at The Barn Playhouse
1600 Christopher St
Jeffersonville, PA  19403

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