It might be possible that there are more productions of RENT in the Cleveland area, then there are Republicans in the NRA. So, off I go to see the current production of RENT presented by Cameo, helmed by Uber Producer Michael A. Sferro, which is performed at the Medina Performing Arts Center. Producing this show within the confines of a high school could potentially mean devastating cuts to the script, but luckily, the only edit came in the form of the word “frickin”, during the Tango Maureen. So on a set bedazzled with fluorescent graffiti, and appropriate back alley realness, we begin.
For those of you who do not know theater, have no theatre friends, or are afraid of theatre people, let me share the story. RENT is a rock musical with lyrics, music and book by Jonathan Larson. It tells the story of impoverished young artists and citizens who inhabit New York City’s East Village, in the frenetic days of Bohemian Alphabet City. One of the major issues that pierces the core of this musical is the devastation of HIV/AIDS, especially during the beginning of the crisis. This emotionally stunning musical won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Musical.
Director Maggie Steffen has assembled a vocally energetic, and mostly collegiate cast. Connor Stout (Roger Davis) and Danny DiMarino (Mark Cohen), are tremendous anchors to this production. Stout has a commanding voice that is captivating, and when need be, heartbreaking. He is fearless on stage, and provides adroit characterization. DiMarino is another powerhouse, possessing a dynamic voice and stage presence. He is charming as hell, and provides just the right narrative vibe. The only stumble is the end harmonies with Stout, just needs to be tuned up.
Austin Gantz (Tom Collins) and Ryan Routh (Angel Schunard) deliver standout performances. There storyline is perhaps the most controversial, and they both play the arc with complete confidence and appeal. Gantz is right on target and puts everything on the table with his reprise of I’ll Cover You. Routh is a triple hot mess of fierceness. His angel is so real and confident, you actually see the human inside, and not just Miss Claus flaunting around. His entrance reminded me of California Chrome busting out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby. Jacob Schafer (Benjamin Coffin III) is offering his best vocal work in years. Her character is just the right balance of jerk and appropriate corporate angst.
Jacqueline D’Attoma (Mimi Marquez) has a strong pure voice, a fishnet worthy body, and looks that would charm any guitar player. Venerability at her core, infuses her performance with an edgy ebb and flow. Jennifer Herron (Joanne Jefferson) and Sarah Husbands (Maureen Johnson) provide some girl power. Herron is uptight and methodical, and captures the aggressive attitude, but adds a level of humanity that is just right. Husbands is like an American Ninja of talent. Possessing a voice that is a gift, see enters the stage like she just landed on the moon, and decided to hold a concert called MaureenFest. Great work, giving us a bitchy artistic delight, who has a tender side, kinda, sort of, well, you can find it if you are patient.
As far as the direction, there is one major distraction in this production. That is the intensity. The stakes are not high enough for everyone involved. In fact, the production only truly sizzles when Mark is about to leave in Act Two. From that moment on, the levels of every performance rose and created the angst and fear of what this piece is addressing. Everyone sings and moves well, but when the ensemble is on for the group numbers, everyone is not connected in their own personal journey, whether that be hell, or fright, or confusion. I saw a few people consistently taking chances, such as Connor Green, Will Crosby, and Brooke Lytton, but not the whole collective. Each and every character, whether ensemble, or not, needs to take assessment and find more depth and emotional connection to what they are singing about. Group scenes exposed actors who looked like they didn’t know what to do. Also, there were moments of upstaging each other. Even Angel’s return at the end is blocked by the cast until he literally gets there. I thought the scene changes were a bit on the long side, but that might have been a result of the lack of tension and angst, that I felt on my part. This is not a bad production at all, but it just reminds me of Rent-lite.
Chorographer Oksana Klue added festive movement to the piece. Music Director Tom Bonezzi provided his usual standard of excellence. Scenic Designer Dale Seeds created a sharp, cook set with black light homage. Costume Designer Katie Peyton got it right with style. Lighting Designer Michael A. Sferro electrified the stage. Sound Designer Allen Redmon provided an excellent balance of sound and vocal, and covered failed mics invisible to the general audience. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded the music louder. Technical Director James Welch efficiently brings all the elements together.
Cameo is a great place, with a terrific producer. They aspire to push themselves professionally all the time, and that is a worthy mission for a community theatre.
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$15 General Admission
851 Weymouth Road
Medina, OH 44256