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With Seán Martinfield

Seán Martinfield
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

RENT - At the Golden Gate Theatre

By Seán Martinfield

July 28, 2006

The traveling production of RENT now at the Golden Gate Theater is scheduled for eviction come August 5th. It is the best that has passed through San Francisco since the musical first opened in New York a little more than ten years ago. The stage is more efficiently utilized in that the 9-piece band is now located on it rather than above it, and the performers are never higher than a single-story staircase or solid-looking roof-top platform. The choreography is tight and efficient, the lighting and costumes making use of primary colors found on a common string of Christmas lights. The performers are very young, very fresh, some very green. The musical adventure (now a Period Piece) enters into its second decade reminding us that AIDS has not gone away and neither have the under-pinnings of its continued spread. The production represents a successful mirroring of the RENT that captured both the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Ten years later, deceased composer Jonathan Larson's tale of eight friends living in New York's Alphabet City while struggling with drugs, romantic entanglements, sexual identities, nagging parents, the loneliness and freezing cold of Christmas Eve, their dubious commitments to the performing arts versus their solid resistance to paying last month's rent or next year's rent - so far, RENT is proving to be an enduring contender in the Broadway lexicon of Rock musicals. See it now! Unless this production returns, the next go-round will probably be a not-so-sumptuous Bus & Truck Show. And then the performance rights get farmed out to all the community theaters, colleges and high schools … hopefully to replace GREASE and FAME.

The Wednesday Night audience was packed with RENT-heads - sometimes screaming louder and higher than the singer(s), and before the note, phrase (or kiss) was actually completed. When nailing a favorite moment, such as Ano Okera's "angelic" jump-up to the table, the decibel level from the cult groupies soared beyond the sound engineer's ever-so-heavy lean on the volume dial. The Sound Design is loud and uni-directional; a blaring non-stop monophonic wall.

For the very young and lightly-experienced members of this current National Tour - all growing up with the Original Cast Recording, seeing the New York production or chasing down any number of separate traveling companies, along with multiple viewings of the 2005 movie version (keeping it in the Top 10 for 3 short weeks) and what with studying the recently-released DVD - landing this job represents their golden opportunity to recreate what they know and, thus, enable all their RENT dreams to come true. Without question, the boisterous die-hard fans freely expressed their general satisfaction (and, perhaps, surprise) with most of the performances - with the glaring exception being the "Mimi" of Arianda Fernandez. A few acting and singing lessons might help; perhaps a more astute Casting Director or even an actual performance in something - anything! - before taking on a Lead Role in a National Tour. Although a capable dancer, Ms. Fernandez cannot hold a candle to the lasting impact of the role's original interpreter, Daphne Rubin-Vega. (But, that's OK - since loyalty to Ms. Rubin-Vega is an active component of the aging but dedicated cult.) Also disputable, the white bread version of "Maureen" served up by Tracy McDowell. Decent vocals, yes. But, one indecent hour at the Folsom Street Fair might add some much-needed tarnish to her porcelain veneer. Readily apparent is the nearly-rigid faithfulness to the vocals as laid down by the 1996 Original Cast - who, having created the roles, were influenced by no one. A number of Mr. Larson's hand-picked / very work-shopped performers were nominated for and won the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the Theater World Award, while the entire cast was honored with the Obie Award for "Outstanding Ensemble Performance". Certainly worth imitating ten years later! Unfortunately, mimicry does not reveal the Truth of Theatre - nor does it serve and nurture the Artistic Soul.

Nevertheless, this production is as good as it gets in 2006 and - if you are among those with a RENT-free history - it merits your consideration. Several performers sparkle with originality. Mike Evariste (as "Paul") brings particular poignancy in his expression of everyone's most private fear of a lonely and prolonged dying process, "Will I lose my diginity?" Chante Carmel Frierson (as "Joanne") is authentically vulnerable and determined. The bass-baritone of Warren G. Nolan, Jr. (as "Collins") needs about another 50 minutes of better material, and a solo spotlight on the concert stage.

To order tickets on-line for RENT as well as the other shows in this current "Best of Broadway" series - A CHORUS LINE, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA and JERSEY BOYS:

Ticketmaster Charge-by-Phone:

San Francisco: (415) 512-7770
Oakland / East Bay: (510) 625-TIXS
San Jose: (408) 998-TIXS
Contra Costa: (925) 685-TIXS
Fresno: (559) 485-TIXS
Santa Rosa: (707) 528-TIXS
Sacramento: (916) 649-TIXS
North of Sacramento: (530) 528-TIXS
Stockton: (209) 551-TIXS




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