Audiences are in for a musical treat when Rent opens this Friday at Waterworks Players in Farmville. The playhouse has been transformed to the gritty feel of New York’s lower east side for Jonathan Larson’s rock opera that documents a year in the lives of struggling artists, AIDS suffers, and homeless people trying to survive between one Christmas and another.
The show opens with roommates Mark and Roger struggling with issues of poverty, success, loss, and identity. Mark, skillfully played by Rick Neller, is an aspiring filmmaker who serves as narrator throughout the show. Roger, portrayed by Kevin Jones, renders a complex songwriter struggling with AIDS, the suicide of his former girlfriend, and desire to write one last great song before he dies. His sensuality is complemented by the more explicit eroticism of Katie Robey, whose Mimi character combines street-smarts swagger and mortal fragility. Roger’s emerging, yet conflicting desires towards Mimi are revealed in their duet “Light My Candle” and remain the show’s romantic centerpieces.
Mark, Roger, Mimi, and a number of other characters, are squatters in a building owned by Benny (Matt Spalding), a former classmate who has married money and plans to transform the building into a cyber-studio. Early in the show Benny demands overdue rent, in which the chorus of residents responds in song “We’re Never Gonna Pay!” Benny is the show’s antagonist with his development efforts that include the removal of the homeless living in tents across the street from his building. Resistance to Benny takes many forms with Maureen (Caroline Kramen), a performance artist, staging a public street protest. Joanne (Erin Wind), as a headstrong public-defender lawyer, uses her professional legal skills to fight Benny. While Maureen and Joanne are united in their cause for the homeless, they are a contentious lesbian couple who sing the prickly duet “Take Me of Leave Me.”
Interspersed throughout the main conflict are stories of a number of struggling characters. Early in the first act Collins (Justin Smith) is reeling from a mugging. He is comforted by Angel (Carlos Galicia), a flamboyant street musician who offers him a helping hand when singing “You Okay, Honey?” Both learn that each other is HIV+ and develop a love interest that lasts until Angel’s death. At the memorial service, Angel’s friends remember his spirit, while Collis remembers his love by singing “I’ll Cover You.”.
The lead roles are joined by a strong ensemble that includes Jennifer Abel, Jay Artis, Shelbi Bennett, Cheryl Hinterleitner, Walter McCoy, Christie Moore, JR Schipper, Marlowe Vilchez, and Donald Hicks who all take on many various roles throughout the show. The supporting actors do an excellent job in joining the major characters in singing “La Vie Boheme” and “Seasons of Love.”
Moffat Evans has created a raw set, comprised of steel scaffolding and wood that blends with the playhouse’s suspended catwalks. The squalid feel is punctuated by a tall and tangled sculpture with colorful lights resembling an abstract Christmas tree. The simple set pushes the action out towards the audience, focusing attention on the actors instead of their surroundings.
Dudley Sauve, artistic director, deserves a lot of credit for bringing Rent to Waterworks, the first production in Virginia. This isn’t an easy production to pull off given its complex plot and a large cast. The show’s production qualities are excellent. Brenda Barringer, as music director, needs to be commended for the quality of singing by the entire ensemble that includes songs from a variety of music genres. She further contributes to the show by beautifully singing a solo in “Seasons of Love” and directing the band, composed of Stan Smith (piano), Josh Ludgate (electric guitar/acoustic guitar), Max Doss (bass), and Gordon Smith (drums).
Rent is a story which addresses adult themes and controversial issues. Parental guidance is suggested. It is not recommended for children under 13.
Make reservations now to attend Waterworks Players’ production of Rent. Performances are at 8:00 pm on April 16, 17, 23 and 24. Tickets are $15. You can obtain tickets by calling the box office at 434-392-3452 or visiting the web site: https://waterworksplayers.org.