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RENT on Long Island

The hit Broadway rock musical ‘Rent’ opened last Thursday night, at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Rent’s Broadway run ended a year ago on September 7, 2008. The opening at the Engeman Theater marks its premiere at a professional theater on Long Island. ‘

‘Rent’ is a rock opera inspired by Puccini’s La Boheme, with music and lyrics written by Jonathan Larson.’ Set in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1990s, ‘Rent’ follows the lives of eight poor, struggling artists, some of whom are living with AIDS.

The audience first meets Mark, a filmmaker, and his roommate Roger, a musician. Mark is coping with being dumped by his girlfriend, performance artist Maureen, who left him for a woman-Joanne, an Ivy League educated lawyer.

Roger is suffering from depression after finding out that he has AIDS and that his girlfriend committed suicide. However, Roger’s world is shaken up when the captivating Mimi, an S&M dancer also living with AIDS who lives in his building, barges into his apartment looking for a light for her candle. Meanwhile, Roger and Mark’s longtime friend Collins gets jumped on his way to visit the boys. This proves to be a blessing in disguise, as he meets Angel, a transvestite who, like him, has AIDS. Sparks immediately fly between Angel and Collins.

As the show progresses, the relationships between the seven main characters develop, as they cope with love, loss, addiction, the struggle to create, cope and pay the rent demanded of them to their landlord and former friend, Benny.

When I was sitting in my seat waiting for the show to begin, I was surprised at how much noise there was in the theater. I thought perhaps someone had left a microphone on backstage and I was hearing the before show commotion. However, I realized, upon hearing a car horn, that this noise was meant to imitate the noises one hears out of their window in New York City.

The set was also reminiscent of the city, but in a more abstract way. Metal panels covered in graffiti stretched from the floor to the ceiling, with a large metal staircase and an area that served as Mark and Roger’s loft. Upon further inspection, the graffiti was more positive than most seen on the city sidewalks-the word ‘hope’ was sprayed on the wall, as were the outlines of a few doves.

The thing that I was questioning throughout the show was the costumes-I was surprised at how current they looked for a show that is supposed to be set in the ’90s. I began to think perhaps the director, Alan Souza, was trying to quietly make a comment about how the themes of Rent are really quite relevant today. After all, we are living in a time of economic hardship, and many people struggle to make ends meet. The modern dress made me think about how, though Rent takes place more than a decade ago, the issues it confronts are timeless.

After reading the director’s note in the program after the show, I realized that I wasn’t so far off. Souza writes ‘ironically, while the turmoil of Larson’s story is represented by the drug and AIDS-ridden East Village artist community in the 1990s, many of the aspects of this story, and its characters, seem to directly reflect our own collective struggles to maintain our relationships, our identities, and our dignity in a time of great economic upheaval, epidemic disease, cultural restructuring, and relentless war.’

As I was perusing the program before the show, I noticed that many of the leads had extensive biographies, some having appeared on Broadway. The talent definitely did not disappoint.

Mark (Stanley Bahorek) was deliciously awkward yet intense. Mike Backes did a fantastic job at projecting Roger’s internal conflict outward. Lakisha Anne Bowen’s Mimi was flirty and feline. Maureen’s powerful vocal range and quirky, diva personality were owned by Betsy Morgan. The interactions between her and the compulsive Joanne (Brit West) were intense-the tension was palpable.

The standout was by far Alan Mingo, Jr., who played Tom Collins. His vocal range was impressive and filled the stage. His acting left nothing to be desired, he stole the stage every time he was on. The chemistry between his Collins and Reymundo Santiago’s Angel was believable and instant from the first interaction between the pair.

The first act of the show was good, but the second act was excellent. The many emotions and powerful songs that awaited the cast were done with passion and skill. I’ll admit it-I was crying for pretty much the last two thirds of the second act.

The ensemble seemed a bit small to me. During the song ‘Rent,’ the ensemble came out, and then disappeared. I had a problem with this because though Roger and Mark are singing as a duet, they are echoing the feelings of the community. I would have like to have seen them on stage for the entire song.

I have seen the show on Broadway twice, and I did have a hard time not comparing this version to the Broadway version. Other than some things I missed that are normally in the Broadway version, one thing that really bothered me was a lack of snow in the song ‘Christmas Bells.’ The line ‘and it’s beginning to snow’ is repeated around three times in the song, yet there was nothing falling from the ceiling, which seemed strange. I don’t really know why that was-it can’t be that the theater couldn’t afford it ,when they are charging $60 per seat. That’s the problem I have with trying not to compare this production to Broadway-the prices are similar. You could definitely see an actual Broadway production for that price.

However, the Engeman Theater does offer student pricing, at $20 per ticket. My issue with this is that many Broadway shows offer student rush for just a few dollars more than that.

The John W. Engeman Theater is a really beautiful theater and offers beverage service at your seat’hellip;but don’t trying using your meal plan, they won’t take it. Not many students I know have enough extra cash to be able to afford a ticket here. However, if you do decide to go, you will probably not be disappointed. Despite the differences between the Broadway version and the Engeman Theater production, Rent was still the show I love, and I still felt the emotions I felt when I saw it on Broadway.

Jonathan Larson’s amazing songs and message were well delivered, and the audience appreciated this-they erupted into a standing ovation as the cast took their bows.

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