Sunday, February 24, 2008

RENT review

I forgot something I learned after writing about seeing Les Miserables in London in March of 2006: actors sometimes Google themselves to see what people are saying about their performances. So with that in mind, I offer this brief (and name-filled) review of RENT.

I saw RENT with a friend at the 2:00 matinee on Saturday, February 23, 2008 at the Scranton Cultural Center (formerly known as the Masonic Temple.) We sat in the third row on the extreme left - close enough to see up the actors' nostrils, though some of our view of the far left of the stage was obscured by a tower of lights and speakers, and at times a light picking out things happening on the far right of the stage shined directly in our eyes. (This is, however, the best place to sit for a closeup view of Maureen's bare butt - portrayed by Christine Dwyer's bare butt - when she drops trou to send a message to Benny the landlord, played by John Watson.)

Briefly put, everything about this production was fantastic, and I regret that this may have been my only opportunity to see the show, since it is closing on Broadway on June 1.

Real standout performances were given by Heinz Winckler as Roger and Kristen-Alexzander Griffith* as Angel. The part of Roger is very vocally demanding, and Winckler was more than equal to the task. Angel is perhaps the most physically demanding role, and Griffith performed fabulously.

Also notable were Anwar F. Robinson as Tom Collins and Jennifer Colby Talton as Mimi. Tom Collins (the only character called by both his first and last names throughout the story) is a character who provides a sort of emotional compass for the story, while the role of Mimi is as vocally demanding as Roger and nearly as physically demanding as Angel. Both Robinson and Talton gave wonderful, memorable performances.

I found the character of Mark, performed by Jed Resnick, to be the weakest link in the chain of RENT. Perhaps the character, who serves as the narrator, is written that way; having never seen any other portrayal, I have nothing to compare this performance to. Resnick's vocal performance was less powerful than those of Winckler and Talton, though his duets were beautiful and richly nuanced throughout the show.

As the story progressed, you really cared about these characters. The death of one of them brought real tears to the eyes of even the biggest and toughest audience members - not because a fictional character had died as the script demanded, but because the portrayal of the character's passing evoked memories many, many deaths that had been experienced in the real world.

It is possible, I suppose, to buy your ticket and go to see a play, or a movie, or a concert, and then walk out of the venue and carry on your life as though nothing had happened. It is a characteristic of a performance that is more than mere entertainment that the experience of what you have witnessed stays with you, and dwells in your head and heart and soul long after the set has been struck and the tour has moved on. RENT is such an experience.

Tonight is the final performance in Scranton. From here the tour moves to Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 4 and 5, and then leaps back East for performances in Baltimore, Maryland on March 7 through 9. (Who the hell came up with that tour schedule? In fact, the schedule gets even crazier from there - two days after Baltimore they're in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the 11th and 12th, then two locations in Missouri from the 13th through the 16th, then back up to Ohio for a single day, then a week in Ontario, then three days in Tennessee, six in Virginia, then a nice long stay in Florida...really, I get dizzy just looking at that schedule!)

If the RENT tour comes anywhere near your town, I highly recommend going to see it! Tell them that d.b. echo sent you, and you read about it on Another Monkey!

*There was some discussion between us as to whether this was an actor portraying the transvestite Angel, or an actress playing a man who dressed as a woman, or perhaps a transgendered man playing a transvestite. I had hoped that the website listed in the biography section,, might be of some help in clearing this up but unfortunately - and ironically, given the thematic content of this story - this site has been cybersquatted!


Ashley said...

Goodness, I finally caught up on your blog. You had a ton of RENT related post and I missed commenting on all of them in a timely fashion.
So glad that you liked it! Can't watit to see it one last time. :(

Jennifer said...

Having looked at the cast pictures, I'm not so sure that Anwar Robinson (the American Idol guy) actually played Collins. I know that's what it said in the playbill, and no mention was made before the performance to indicate otherwise. But, I'll be damned if this guy ( wasn't the one who played Collins. I think there was a little switch-a-roo!

beingawesome said...

it's very possible that you had Aswad playing Tom Collins at your show like i did a couple days earlier.. I saw this cast in Athens, OH on February 20th and talked to Christine for a little bit.. she said that the cast was dropping off like flies due to being sick..

it happens.

the only way to know if you have understudies at Rent is to check this little board they have out in the lobby for each performance. same on broadway as it is on the tour.

dunnadam said...

I googled the trans man/woman and found your blog. I saw the show tonight in Toronto, Heinz was great as you said. I've never really liked Roger before, he's always been too long flowing hair and leather jacket for me but I really liked his this time, I think Heinz had a purer voice than Adam Pascal whom I saw on Broadway in September. I'm assuming Angel was trans, who can understudy a performance like that? Also I found Joanne to have a weird lisp that was distracting, but overall a hip young cast and a job well done.

dunnadam said...

And I agree, no Anwar Robinson tonight.