Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton, CO was transformed into Alphabet City Friday evening for its opening of the acclaimed musical RENT. The 1996 winner of four Tony awards, including best musical, RENT is Jonathan Larson’s brave and provocative glimpse into the lives of a bohemian group of artists struggling to survive New York City at the end of the millennium.
Town Hall’s production of RENT is the Denver-area’s first locally-produced, professional interpretation of the musical. Given its loyal following, controversial content, and extremely challenging score, RENT is an ambitious show to undertake. Yet with director and choreographer Nick Sugar at the helm of a tremendously talented cast, Town Hall Arts Center succeeded in showcasing Colorado’s musical theatre prowess: RENT is a show that Denver needs to see.
Set designer Tina Anderson created the stark and industrial landscape of RENT skillfully, utilizing Town Hall’s intimate stage in a thoughtful and versatile way. With no curtains to disguise staging transitions or an abundance of space to negotiate, Anderson’s set still excelled, providing the cast with a variety of levels and angles from which to launch their performance.
The cast of RENT exploded onto the stage during the musical’s title number in a dizzying array of elaborate choreography and armed with an impressive vocal forte. Sugar translated the passion and intensity of the musical expertly. Although the dancing was demanding, the cast attacked the numbers with gusto. The result was sizzling.
Vocally, the cast was superb. When the company joins forces and belts out “Christmas Bells,” “La Vie Bohème,” and “Seasons of Love” the harmonies are powerful. The performers work in concert with the musicians almost effortlessly. Traci Kern’s stratospheric note in “Seasons of Love” is spine-tingling. The culmination is poignant.
In such a capable ensemble, it is no easy to task to steal the spotlight. Still, some stars shone especially bright on opening night:
Russell Mernagh’s Roger is extraordinary. His voice adeptly captures the rock bravado of Roger’s tortured tenor. “One Song Glory” is goose bumps good. Mernagh’s stage presence and intuitive delivery are not to be missed.
Amanda Earl’s Maureen is dynamic and deliciously diva. With “Over the Moon,” Earl fearlessly commands her audience. Also, Maureen’s eulogy in the second act is heartbreaking, owing to Earl’s remarkable emotional range.
Maureen’s polar opposite partner, Joanne, is performed exquisitely by Ashlie-Amber Harris. Her timing is impeccable, her attitude is spot-on. Harris’ voice is like a peppermint: refreshing, bold, and just a little bit spicy. She is an indomitable force in “Take Me or Leave Me.”
Danny Harrigan’s Angel is thrilling. During “Today 4 U,” Angel leaps from the floor and lands on top of a 3-foot table—in heels. Harrigan’s athleticism is tempered by an elegant possession as Angel and portrays her lively personality with ease.
As is the case with any opening performance, there are still some hiccups to be addressed in RENT. Brief sound glitches and delayed cues along with a couple of missed lines, moments of low energy, and slightly awkward exchanges are all easily remedied. This reviewer would like to see the chemistry between the characters taken to the next level. Still, the caliber of talent present in this cast and crew are sure to overcome these minor challenges as the show progresses.
Overall, Town Hall’s RENT is a triumphant homage to Jonathan Larson’s enduring message of hope, love, acceptance, and celebrating life. RENT is a show that must not be missed.
Town Hall should be commended for embracing this show and sharing it with Denver. If Town Hall continues to deliver gems like RENT to Colorado, they are likely to elevate theatre in the state to the mile-high status it deserves.
Town Hall Arts Center’s production of RENT runs until October 17, 2010. Tickets and times are available by visiting TownHallArtsCenter.com and by calling 303-794-2787 ext. 5.