By Kaitlin MacRae
In an amazing display of talent, the hit Broadway musical Rent came to life in the Yvonne Theater last weekend, opening to rave reviews.
Directed by Assistant Professor Miriam Mills, the accomplished cast of Rent delivered a powerful and moving performance, instilling in its audiences the importance of love and friendship. A poignant take on modern issues such as drug abuse, homelessness and the AIDS virus, Rent shows that sometimes, the happiest people are those who are simply content with what they have — each other.
The show begins with Mark, played by junior Nick Anastasia, who narrates the show with his video camera in hand. Although at first it seems like Mark is merely an observer and recorder of his friends’ lives, it turns out that he’s actually running from his own demons and hiding behind his camera rather than facing the world. Although he is fresh from a breakup with his bisexual girlfriend Maureen (junior Heather Hussey), Mark serves as the voice of reason for his friends.
Anastasia particularly shone as Mark as he convincingly portrayed the character. He made the audience believe in Mark, and not only did Anastasia make you want to be Mark’s friend, he made you want to see him fulfill his dreams. Though the group of young actors comprised a number of talented people, Anastasia stole the show with his quick humor and friendly demeanor.
Hussey was an entertaining powerhouse as the flirtatious, sexual Maureen. She served up a ballsy and passionate performance and even got the audience to “moo” during “Over the Moon.”
Sophomore Darranie Gibson played Joanne, Maureen’s lover who has an interesting encounter with Mark, during which they dance the “Tango Maureen.” Gibson had great chemistry with Hussey, and their performance of “Take Me or Leave Me” was a heartfelt declaration of their rocky relationship.
Sophomore Tyler Eley embodied the character of Angel perfectly, fully committing to her trademark wigs, knee-high boots and sexy Santa suit. Though drag queens are somewhat controversial figures in society, Eley shed new light on the queen in every man, while making Angel a funny and loveable character. Angel also shows the stunning impact a single person can have on others. Through her kindness, generosity and strong sense of self, Angel touches the lives of her friends and also those sitting before the stage. At the time of her emotional death, the audience held its collective breath as Angel took her final one, and it mourned alongside the characters as they coped with the death of their beloved friend.
Tom Collins (senior Kyrus Westcott) and Angel have a loving relationship that the two actors pulled off flawlessly. It was touching to see all of the actors handle their relationships — whether between two men, two women or a man and a woman — with conviction and maturity. The romance between Tom and Angel is particularly special because both men give a name and face to the AIDS epidemic and show just how deeply terminal illness can affect loved ones. Their rendition of “I’ll Cover You” was both an affectionate ode to one another and a promise of unconditional love.
Roger (senior Ryan Crimmins) also struggles with HIV and is still coping with the recent suicide of his girlfriend April. His one wish is to write a single great song before his eventual death, but he can’t seem to find the right words. Upon entering a tumultuous relationship with the unpredictable Mimi (senior Abby Brown), Roger discovers what it is to love again. Crimmins gave a particularly powerful performance of “One Song Glory,” during which it was easy to feel the pain and frustration of the angst-filled artist.
Although Brown may not be the Mimi that most Rent fans are familiar with or expect, she displayed an exceptional talent for singing.
Though all the music performed in Rent was done well, several numbers stuck out among the rest. “La Vie Bohème” is a scene during which the cast and ensemble storm a diner and interrupt Benny’s (sophomore David Spadora) business meeting with a colleague. Benny preaches about the end of Bohemia and the end of their starving-artist lifestyle, but the optimistic crew rebuts with a fun and catchy anthem. The choreography alone was enough to make the audience want to join the cast on stage as they table dance and show Benny the meaning of their Bohemian roots.
“Seasons of Love” is, of course, the classic Rent song. The cast performed this number with heart, and Emily Marsilia hit all the right notes during her impressive solo.
From the acting and singing to the nearly spot-on set, Rent was an audacious and provocative production that proved to be a fun and emotional journey for both the characters and the audience. The inspirational messages of love, hope and living life to the fullest resonated with everyone, as there really is “no day but today.”
Rent shows tonight and tomorrow in the Yvonne Theater at 8 p.m. For ticket information, contact the box office at (609) 896-5303.