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November 12, 2008 > Theater Review: Rocky "Rent" in Newark

Theater Review: Rocky "Rent" in Newark

By Julie Grabowski

Since its debut in 1996 Jonathan Larson's "Rent" has electrified audiences around the world with its sharp passionate music and controversial topics. A modern retelling of Puccini's opera "La Boheme" the 6-time Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical chronicles the bohemian lifestyle of artists in Manhattan's East Village struggling to maintain their dreams and relationships in a world of poverty, drugs, AIDS, and corporate infiltration. Newark Memorial High brings this complex and vibrant story to the Tri-Cities for the first three weekends in November.

The intensity and power of "Rent" is a heavy undertaking for high school students and this production certainly does not hold back. But while the players capture the spirit and energy of the work, they never manage to sell the deeper emotions. Evan Grim's Roger barely makes eye contact with his love Mimi, and Angel and Tom Collins seem more like playful buddies than soul mates, unfortunately slaughtering the beautiful and tender "I'll Cover You." Marina Toft and Laura Hendricksen are the only duo who generates a believable connection with lesbians Maureen and Joanne, whose relationship tug of war is shown to best effect in "Take Me or Leave Me."

Michael Landreth's performance teeters over the top much of the time, but his spasmodic filmmaker Mark continually draws the eye and he is the most fun to watch. Toft excels as the passionate, untamable performance artist Maureen, giving one of the most solid numbers of the evening in the deliciously wacky "Over the Moon."

"Tango Maureen," Hendricksen's spot on "We're Okay," and the boisterous "La Vie Boheme" provide the evening's best moments. Film clips depicting character's dreams and declines accompany four songs, and though a bit cheesy provides an interesting diversion from the stage. While the vocals are hit and miss, the live five-piece band conducted by Anselmo Reis is fantastic and keeps the show at a high elevation.

Newark Memorial's production is a passionate effort, but fails to deliver an authentic emotional punch due to lack of believable connection between the characters and vocal difficulties. However, it is a good opportunity for those unfamiliar with the musical to get their feet wet and experience the intoxicating spirit and uplifting message of "Rent."

Admission is $12 at the door; advanced tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at The Book End, 5678 Thornton Ave. in Newark. For more information call (510) 818-4451.

November 7-22
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Newark Memorial Theatre
39375 Newark Blvd., Newark
(510) 818-4451
Tickets: $10-$12

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