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“When you’re dying in America, at the end of the millennium, you’re not alone” RENT CELEBRATES 30 YEARS



THERE IS ‘NO DAY LIKE TODAY’ - JONATHAN LARSON'S MUSICAL CELEBRATES THIS WINTER IN FOSTER CITY AND BRINGS LOVE, ENERGY, DEATH AND PRIDE TO THE MILLENNIUM   


Review by Vince Mediaa

It is a RENT theatre season of “No day but today” and a celebration of playwright Jonathan Larson RENT The Musical is in its 30th year of “Seasons of Love”. The Tony honored musical is on two Bay Area stages this month. I first visited the Foster City company. Hillbarn Theatre opens their 83rd season with this iconic musical that help change the face of 90’s musical theatre. RENT The Musical is now on stage only through February 25th at their barn theatre. The small space is the perfect home for this Pulitzer Prize Award winner. Directed by Reed Flores he says “RENT is about the story with tears in their eyes. I haven't even touched what RENT has done for our own theatrical landscape.”



This month Mark and Roger share the stage on the lower east side of surrounding Foster City. You are immersed in a New York artist colony set in Alphabet City on scenic artists Paulino Deleal and Steve Muterspaugh immersive set where the rafters surround the performance space. The cast greets you as you enter the 1989 era of homeless artists. Since this Tony winner is on a few stages in Bay Area and the South Bay, I won’t explore the story and history of the show, but I will focus on this terrific cast and artistic team. 



For those fans who attend with a nostalgia for RENTs iconic theatrical moments, this cast and production crew bring it on. Highlights include the talented Jesse Cortez  swagger and drumming as Angel in “Today 4 U,” the powerful Brandon Leland as Roger always trying to compose “One Song Glory”. The performance artist Maureen played by local favorite Daniel Mendoza and her girlfriend Joanne played by the awsome Solona Husband.




The two and half hour show includes some adequate performances with mostly a POC cast including Mark, the videographer making his documentary about life in Alphabet City. Edward Im turns in a warm performance as the filmmaker. His voice is not as strong as the other leads, he might have been tired after a long tech week. He is a very dapper Mark, not very homeless looking, Noland Miranda and Armando Brieiz costumes are a different take from other productions I have seen. Mark is a very high end uptown colorful look with a trimmed perfect haircut. His voice struggles during the first act closer “La Vie Boheme” with the company, and his solo “Halloween” in Act 2. 



The confident pro Leland steals the stage with his magnificent voice as the tortured Roger, showcasing the character’s internal struggles with passionate mannerisms and an authentic portrayal of the HIV infected rocker. His solo “One Song Glory” is razor-sharp where he truly shows off his polished voice. Later his duet with Im, Leland is knockout singing “What You Own” At the end of the millenium - that always rocks the second act.


As the wild drug addict Mimi, the amazing May Ramos moves with an amazing level of grace and flexibility and possesses a strong and natural singing voice that brings all their sexual angst to the addiction struggle - feel so real. Leland and Ramos have the perfect timing as damaged lovers that learn to embrace their addictions. The classic “Light My Candle” is directed well by first time musical director Flores. Both Ramos and Leland prove their affection for their characters. In the second act  they bring a raw emotion to “Without You”. Again designers Miranda and Brieiz tune down the sexy with Mimi’s and Angels look, yet Maureen has a sleek NY Village class to her costumes. 



The enthralling Daniel Mendoza and Solona Husband respectively appear as Maureen and Joanne, the constantly fighting couple, who both sing powerfully and are especially strong in the more humorous aspects of their roles. Mendoza and Husband are mesmerizing in their classic duet “Take Me or Leave Me”.  




The accomplished Dedrick Weathersby fulfills the baritone songs of the anarchist Tom Collins, his vocals are effective on the excellent lower notes. His soulful zest in his duet with Angel in “You Okay Honey” he is empowering with Cortez. Weathersby is impressive with the company in his Act 2 reprise is truly heart-wrenching and provides so much emotion.



Coetz in silver knee high boots is excellent as Angel, a true triple threat who can act, dance, and sing with the ability to grab your full attention with his sizzling performance. “Today 4 U” was a highlight, not as camp as I am used to but Cortez slays. Together Cortez and Weathersby showed romance and respect for one another and their love was reflected in their duet “I’ll Cover You”. Miranda and Brieiz design for Angel is a new take - a softer, less sexy drag queen, with a body t-shirt and very few bare parts revealed. A bit confining and more like a sexy clown, yet Cortez transcends the look and owns it 100% in his iconic songs and the swan darkness of his second act finale “Goodbye Love”.



Jamari Mcgee is convincing as Benny, the villain and landlord dressed in a long bright yellow jacket and scowling for most of the first act. He is enthusiastic in the role. Mcgee’s arc in the second act is well done as his mood changes when one of the cast members dies. The other performers Kristy Aquino, Lillian Kurtz, Loren Madrigal, John Ramirez-Ortiz, Kim Seiple, and CJ Strickland play multiple roles and bring their infectious talents throughout the musical. Each actor is truly a standout, with keen vocal skills with a commitment to the themes of community, friendship, and love.



The ensemble is in the house as you enter alphabet city as the company surrounds Mark's Bolex film camera. Set artist and designer Paulino Deleal has made excellent use of the smaller space including incorporating the six member band on stage headed by music director Diana Lee. Projection artist Steve Muterspaugh fills out the rich feel and depth to the set with his projections, and later the film Mark creates. The cast is colorful in classic 90’s style, warm sweaters, skirts, red leather coats, green gloves and beanies. Many of the talented ensemble bring their earth tones to life. Deleal and Muterspaugh use ramps, and scaffoldings that surround the opening night sold out crowd. Flores doesn’t include the long table that the cast mines from, but he creates more of an open space for celebration. Flores brings a softer edge to the original story and accomplishes that well.




Choreographer Gabe Igtanloc kept the lower east side filled with high energy and a sharp urban feel. Igtanloc’s choreography for “Tango Maureen” is a highlight showcasing Im and Husband. It is smooth and friendly and makes the audience feel like they want to join in. Intimacy Choreographer Bessie Zolno created some effective moments involving the cast with one standard moment of nudity removed from La Boheme. But the passion between Mimi, Rodger, Maureen and Joanne is well directed by Zolno. Lighting by Pamila Gray includes a busy space to cover since the entire barn is used for the RENT family. A tone of blue fills most of the space and remains a low tone to reveal the many projections. Sound designer Jeff Mockus keeps the audio clear and a focus on all the many sound cues from the phone effects and a clear window for Lee’s on stage band. Stage Manager Justin Travis Buchs is very busy wrangling the cast's many entrances and on stage set changes.



This timeless and soulful musical doubles down on the power of community and love, in all its forms. It is a viable lesson on the ability to heal through understanding and compassion, letting us know that we only have today and that each day gives us the chance to measure our lives in love.The musical is a sense of community, a thought that can last through decades. If you have never seen RENT you will adore this classic love story that deals with drug addiction, death, HIV, finding your sexuality, and the struggles of living in any urban city. You have plenty of chances to see RENT this 2024 season; the celebration will explode in the north, south and east bay. Opening next at the Hillbarn is ONCE that opens March 21, but in the meantime “Take me for what I am, who I was meant to be” and bring your used clothes to share with the cast.





No Day But Today


HILLBARN THEATRE PRESENTS

RENT

 Book, Music and Lyrics by 

JONATHAN LARSON


Directed by REED FLORES

Choreography by GABE IGTANLOC

Music and Vocal Director DIANA LEE

Artistic Director STEVE MUTERSPAUGH


Must close Feb 25th 

Hillbarn Theatre

 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd.,

Foster City, CA 94404

 

Discount at GOLDSTAR.com

Running Time 2 hours 40 minutes


PHOTO CREDIT: TRACY MARTIN




Story

RENT is the modern retelling of La Boheme and follows one year in the lives of the counter-culture residents of Alphabet City in New York City in the mid-1990s. While trying to overcome the obstacles of poverty, AIDS, drug addiction, and egos, the central characters still reach for dreams and form bonds of lasting friendship.


The musical about the lives of artists struggling to follow their dreams made their debut in New York in 1996 and their inspiring message about life, equality, acceptance, and love is still relevant today. With music, lyrics and book by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning Jonathan Larson.




THE SONDHEIM - JON LARSON CONNECTION 


After the loss of the theatre communities treasured Stephen Soudheim, his connection to RENTS playwright is important. Sondheim was also a mentor, a teacher and an audience regular for new works. He was famous for writing typewritten notes to future playwrights and artists. Producer Lin-Manuel Miranda directed the new film version of Larson's first musical “Tick, Tick … Boom!.” He asked Sondheim’s to recreate a voicemail where he offered needed praise to the future talent. Larson ignores the ringing phone and lets the answering machine pick up. Sitting on the bare wooden floor of his apartment in 1990 New York City, he listens as Stephen Sondheim leaves a message; “Jon? Steve Sondheim here,” the voice says Sondheim scripted that voice mail for the film himself offering just the right words to lift the spirits of Larson and countless other young artists. When Sondheim died Nov. 26, 2021, the American stage lost not only a composer and lyricist but also its longtime muse and inspiration.


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