On January 25th, 1996, a brand new musical called "RENT" opened its doors for the very first time and was unlike anything ever seen before. Seventeen years ago, it was a show that revolutionized theatre. Today, "RENT" is still sung and performed by thousands in theatres all over the world. It has, without a doubt, become a soaring success.
And though so many of us have seen it countless times, its creator, Jonathan Larson, would never live to see his work come to life as he died of an aneurysm in the early hours of its opening night. But I know he would have loved its current production dedicated to him which is now playing at the Actors Company, directed and produced by Rowan Sutherland with Musical Director Melissa Sky Eagle, and Choreographer Marcus S. Daniel.
Set in New York's gritty Alphabet City, "RENT" follows a year in the lives of eight young bohemians, dealing with the hardships of AIDS, poverty, homosexuality, death, hate, homelessness, and love. With a talented ensemble cast in which members trade off in the lead roles for some performances, I will sing the praises of those performing on opening night. But take it from me, whatever performance you see will be just as amazing given the talent in the cast.
First I must mention the outstanding ensemble number "La Vie Boheme" with perfectly executed choreography and amazing musical harmony with each and every voice combining in ways that made the music rise up to the heavens. Marisa Zakaria, the soloist in "Seasons of Love" was outstanding with all the charisma and talent needed to shine in any role onstage. I am sorry to have not seen her in the role of Maureen which she will play at certain performances.
But the Maureen I did see, Brittany Carriger, along with her partner Joanne played by Hayley Silvers, performed the show-stopping "Take Me or Leave Me" raising the bar on character and harmony for the rest of the show. The audience was spellbound and the applause afterwards was well-deserved and heartfelt for their soul-barring performances.
And I can't rave enough about Andy Eubanks, whose ten years of ballet training was tested in the role of Angel as he danced and jumped up and down on a table and chairs in what appeared to be 5-inch stiletto heels. And then there was his riotous entrance as Pussy Galore! Congrats to costume designer Isabella Scannone on that outfit. Angel is pure love and Eubanks grabbed onto her heart and shared it with everyone in the theater.
Also loved the short "Voicemail #5" with the four parents leaving messages of love and concern for their loft-living children. It was a cacophony of sounds representing every single message any mother has left for her child at least once in her life.
The Actors Company is located at 916a N. Formosa Ave. in West Hollywood 90046. It is difficult to see the address at night, so look for the large CAZT neon sign on the building and turn into its driveway to find the theater. Hopefully signage for "RENT" will be added on Formosa as there were several of us having difficulty finding it on the night I was there. And be sure to sit close enough to the stage to see the on-the-floor choreography which may not be visible from farther-back theater seats. It is definitely not to be missed. And I do hope the sound levels will be corrected so that the music soundtrack does not drown out the singers so often in future performances.
"RENT" continues at the Actors Company through February 10, with performances Thursday to Sunday at 7pm, and a Sunday matinee at 2pm. Featuring (in order of appearance) Steven Silvers, Nathan Parker, Austin Scott, Kena Worthern, Andy Eubanks, Hayley Silvers, Brittany Carriger, Ra'Shawn Durell, Jessica Mayorga, Darrio Connor, Melissa Strauss, Michael Levine, Ella Bowen, Keith Taylor, Marisa Zakaria, Sandra Saad, William Shaffer, Lenar Jones, with Hayden Gold and Marcus Daniel in some performances as Roger and Angel. Tickets: $30.00 General Admission, $40.00 with VIP (On Stage). Seating at flashtheatreproductions.ticketbud.com/rent.