Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: The Harbor Lights Theater Company's RENT

"There's only us. There's only this. Forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other path. No other way. No day but today." 

My name is Rosanne, and I am still, to this day am a "Renthead." Seeing The Harbor Lights Theater Company's inspired performance Saturday night at Snug Harbor in Staten Island only reaffirmed this for me. It also reaffirmed to me that local theater  is still alive and well in Staten Island. (More on this later)

It's hard for me to believe it's been 20 years since Jonathan Larson's masterpiece hit Broadway. I can remember the buzz around this show, the first "rock opera" based on Puccini's La Boheme. I remember President Clinton coming in to see it and the conservative (both the political kind and the theater kind) backlash. 

Most of all, I remember the first time I saw the show. My friends and I skipped junior prom, rented a limo, had dinner in Times Square and went to see it. I immediately fell in love with the music and the story, which above all else is a out love, friendship, acceptance and New York. 

I saw the show at least eight more times after that initial viewing. I lined up to get tickets when originals Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal reprised their roles of Mark and Roger. I saw it in its final week on Broadway and I saw its off Broadway revival shortly after. I saw the movie and the film of the Broadway show. I made the above quote my high school yearbook quote. If there was somebody with the faux credentials to review a performance of Rent with a critical eye, it was me. 

An Emotional Performance

At the end of the performance, however, there really was nothing for me to be critical about. I'm really not sure why I am always surprised when I see a high quality, Broadway caliber show on Staten Island but I always am. Everything from the performers, to the set and the direction was top notch.

The theater at Snug Harbor is charming yet rough, and the perfect setting for Rent. The exposed bricks and restored location is perfect for the New York City street feel of the entire show. The stage and backdrop was impressive and two-level set was perfect for the loft and street setting of the show.

I found the direction of the play (by Alex Perez) refreshing, with aspects of the movie incorporated with aspects of the original Broadway show. For example, in Roger's power solo "One Song Glory" interpretive dancers acted out Roger's star-crossed relationship with his late girlfriend, April, committed suicide after discovering they both had AIDS. Also, in Tango: Maureen, Mark and Joanne are joined by additional dancers. For a show that doesn't normally have a lot of dance scenes, I found this to be a welcome addition.

I judge all performances of Rent by how well one song is performed, La Vie Boheme, and The Harbor Lights Theater Company's performance didn't disappoint. Nick DeVito, who plays Mark Cohen, gave an enthusiastic tribute to bohemian life in my favorite song. Zuri Washington, who plays Maureen Johnson, truly understood the craziness of the character and gave one the best performances of "Over the Moon" I've ever seen.

La Vie Boheme (Photo via The Harbor Lights Theater Company)

In my opinion, however, the cast member who stole the show was Monte J. Howell who played the sweet, caring, and brilliant Tom Collins. He gave a hauntingly heartbreaking rendition of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" that gave me goosebumps.

Overall, it was a top notch production. There were a few times that the audio cut in mid-line, which was fine except for larger production numbers (which are already confusing) such as Christmas Bells. Nonetheless, each performer radiated talent and enthusiasm and the audience truly enjoyed every moment. 

Theater on Staten Island

The Staten Island Advance recently questioned whether live theater has a chance on Staten Island. It honestly made me sad that we are even questioning this. 

Spend a night out at the theater with a friend.
With all the young, raw talent coming to New York, looking for a chance to "make it big" there's no reason why Staten Island can't borrow from that pool of talent and put on quality, entertaining productions. That is exactly what was accomplished with Rent. In addition, there is our home grown talent pool which is quite large and impressive. 

The Advance alluded to the fact that with Broadway so close, patrons are unwilling to go to shows on Staten Island. I think this is absurd. 

What's my point? While it is true that being 11 miles from Manhattan means that we have a wide array of entertainment options at our disposal, we are constantly hearing that there's "nothing to do" on Staten Island. With live theater you have an entertaining evening out at a quarter of the cost. You don't have deal with the Manhattan traffic and you don't have to pay $50 to park your car in a lot. You have an "off Broadway" show and the best restaurants on Staten Island within a mile of Snug Harbor.

I'm personally making it a point to support Staten Island theater because I believe in the quality and talent. I will continue to cover local productions here, on my social media channels and by my attendance. 

Go See Rent

Good news, you still have four more opportunities to see Rent this weekend. Here's the information so you can go see for yourself:

Thursday, October 1

Friday, October 2

Saturday, October 3

Sunday, October 4

Tickets are $35, $40 or $45. Parking is free.

Click here to buy tickets and let me know what you think of the show.


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