Ge­n­e­sius’ ‘Rent’ is worth the price

The Community Connection - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ch­eryl Thorn­burg cthorn­burg@pottsmerc.com @Mer­cArt­sCh­eryl on Twit­ter

Pow­er­ful, provoca­tive and poignant are just a few words to de­scribe Ge­n­e­sius Theatre’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion, “Rent,” but there re­ally aren’t enough su­perla­tives to char­ac­ter­ize the cal­iber of the cast, light­ing, set and chore­og­ra­phy of this Tony and Pulitzer-Award win­ning mu­si­cal set in New York City in the ’90s.

With its dark and dan­ger­ous set­ting in Al­pha­bet City and its char­ac­ters deal­ing with home­less­ness, drug ad­dic­tion, poverty and AIDS, you’d think its tone might be ex­tremely dark, and at times it is, but there are also mo­ments of hope and hu­man­ity that take it to a whole new level.

The plot, akin to Puc­cini’s opera “La Bo­heme,” in­volves char­ac­ters who are cre­ative and pas­sion­ate peo­ple, strug­gling to find their way. They are unique and tal­ented, just like the ex­tra­or­di­nary cast that di­rec­tor L.J. Fe­cho has brought to­gether for his show.

I have seen many of the cast mem­bers in var­i­ous pre­vi­ous roles, but each one has taken his or her per­for­mance to new heights in “Rent.”

Caleb An­thony of­ten cre­ates hys­ter­i­cally funny char­ac­ters, but as Mark, the as­pir­ing film­maker, he demon­strates he also has the chops to de­liver Jonathan Lar­son’s pow­er­ful lyrics and mu­sic, in­clud­ing the ti­tle song “Rent” and “La Vie Bo­heme A” with the cast. His comedic skills, as al­ways, shine in the mem­o­rable duet, “Tango Mau­reen,” with Dav­ina Lopez, a new­comer to Ge­n­e­sius, whose pow­er­ful vo­cals re­ally stand­out, par­tic­u­larly in her solo, “We’re Okay.”

Lopez’ other duet with CC Cooper as Mau­reen, a pro­mis­cu­ous per­for­mance artist who is her lover, is another high point of the show. The two de­liver an in­tense mu­si­cal lovers’ quar­rel in “Take Me or Leave Me,” as they cir­cle around each other as if squar­ing up for a fight. Cooper also shines in a dy­na­mite ver­sion of “Over The Moon,” Mau­reen’s sexy per­for­mance piece at a protest rally.

Drew Board­man, who de­liv­ered a fine per­for­mance in last year’s “Car­rie: The Mu­si­cal,” to­tally amazed me as Collins, de­scribed as “an anar­chist pro­fes­sor

with AIDS.” The role gives him a chance to demon­strate his con­sid­er­able act­ing tal­ent, but also show off his vo­cal skills in num­bers like “Santa Fe” and the ten­der bal­lad, “I’ll Cover You,” a duet with the amaz­ing Michael Ro­man, as An­gel.

Ro­man def­i­nitely steals the show as the self-de­scribed drag queen, whose ex­u­ber­ance, flam­boy­ance and com­pas­sion en­dear him to his hard-luck neigh­bors. He is at the heart of a cir­cle of friends that makes this show so spe­cial. Ro­man is a high-energy dy­namo whose num­bers like “To­day For You” add zest to the show, but his por­trayal of An­gel also gives him the chance to show his se­ri­ous side as in the dra­matic “Con­tact.” It is the on-stage chem­istry and be­liev­abil­ity of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Board­man and Ro­man that makes “Rent” feel real.

Jor­dan Bay­lor plays Roger, a rock mu­si­cian in search of writ­ing “One Great Song,” who is Mark’s room­mate. Since his girl­friend’s sui­cide, he has with­drawn. His de­liv­ery of “Your Eyes,” one of the most mem­o­rable songs from the show, is haunting. He also per­forms some beau­ti­ful duets with Kris­tan Pagliei who plays Mimi, an ex­otic dancer who is HIV pos­i­tive. They in­clude “Light My Can­dle,” “I Should Tell You,” and the un­for­get­table “With­out You.”

The stag­ing of the lat­ter is one of the most emo­tional in the show as Roger and Mimi sing to each other as Collins cares for a dy­ing An­gel in the back­ground. There were def­i­nitely tears in the au­di­ence for this one.

Joe Swag­gerty plays Ben­jamin Cof­fin III (Benny), a for­mer room­mate who has “sold out” and now is the land­lord to his old friends. Swag­gerty’s Benny is charm­ing as the vil­lain if the piece. He plays key roles in the ti­tle song and in “You’ll See.”

The most mem­o­rable songs in the show are the ones in­volv­ing the en­tire com­pany — “La Vie Bo­heme A and B,” “Sea­sons of Love” and “Fi­nale” with its in­spir­ing lyric “No Day But To­day.” They are the ones that make “Rent” a joy­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause de­spite its dark and un­com­fort­able sub­ject mat­ter, its un­der­ly­ing mes­sage of hope and ac­cep­tance is one that still rings true.

De­liv­er­ing those songs are some of the area’s most tal­ented singers. The ensem­ble in­cludes Amy Hu- dak, Kelly Sch­mehl, Susie DeBooth, Ni­cholas Freer, Bo Ir­win, Sab­rina Paulino, Shey Bogu­mil, Bri­ana Christie, Mamie Covell, Raina Daynorow­icz, Kim­mie Fet­ters, Bee Gracius, Dara Himes, Kait­lyn Re­ber, El­iz­a­beth Siani, Kara Sny­der, Maya Spra­gley, Lyn­d­sey Bosold, Rosanna Sani Pereira, Evan Nel­son, Jessie Hoff­man, Tay­lor Clark, Matt Cole, Ben Stock and Ri­ley Pear­son.

The cre­ative team be­hind this pro­duc­tion, in ad­di­tion to Fe­cho, in­cludes Kevin Cooper, mu­si­cal di­rec­tor; Sim­mon E. Gage, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor; Jen­nifer Parker Scott, chore­og­ra­pher; Spencer Moss Fe­cho, Nick Covell and L.J. Fe­cho, light­ing de­sign; Kathi Christie, stage man­ager; and Jes­sica Re­ber, Kait­lyn Re­ber and Joe Swag­gerty cre­at­ing the scenic art.

The mu­si­cians who pro- vide the au­dio back­drop for ev­ery­thing hap­pen­ing on stage are Franklyn Fraser – bass, Alex Price – guitar, Dave Neel - key­board 2, Christo­pher Sperat - key­board 1 and Matthew Phillips – drums.

Di­rec­tor L.J. Fe­cho said he wanted to bring back the edge to this show, and he has def­i­nitely suc­ceeded. The pro­duc­tion, with its spec­tac­u­lar light­ing ef­fects, graf­fiti-laden set and dy­namic chore­og­ra­phy, do the orig­i­nal jus­tice. The few scenes with par­tial nu­dity also bring back that edge, and evoke the Bo­hemian and ir­rev­er­ent spirit of the era.

What makes “Rent” re­ally spe­cial are the ded­i­cated cast mem­bers and crew who pro­ject a feel­ing that is much more than ca­ma­raderie, it’s fam­ily -- and that bond is pal­pa­ble.

“Rent” con­tin­ues at 2 p.m. Sun­day, June 21 and at 7:30 p.m., Wed­nes­day through Satur­day, June 24-27 (dis­count pric­ing on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day, June 24 and 25). There will also be a spe­cial mid­night per­for­mance on Fri­day June 26. Tick­ets range from $17.50-$28.50 and credit card fees ap­ply. Tick­ets may also avail­able at the door, but many shows are selling out, so call ahead. For tick­ets, go to www.ge­n­e­siusdif­fer­ence.org or call 610-373-9500.

The play is rated “R” for adult lan­guage and sit­u­a­tions and par­tial nu­dity. Ge­n­e­sius Theatre is lo­cated at 153 North 10th Street, Read­ing, 19601. Ge­n­e­sius Theatre is hand­i­cap ac­ces­si­ble with free park­ing (lim­ited spa­ces avail­able) next to the theater. For more in­for­ma­tion, call the theater at 610-371-8151.

PHOTO BY KATHI CHRISTIE

From front to back - Cal An­thony as Mark, Kristin Pagliei as Mimi (next to wall), Mag­gie Shevli­nas Mau­reen (on floor), Drewn Boardma

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