Jump the Moon • Pit & Balcony's 'RENT' a Milestone Achievement Not to Be Missed

20th Anniversary Performances Run May 13-14 and May 20-22

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature, Theatre, Culture, ,   By: Robert E Martin

13th May, 2016     0

The collective synergy between the multi-talented cast of Pit & Balcony’s theatrical production of the Tony award winning Broadway musical RENT, coupled with the focused passionate direction of Chad William Baker, easily makes this 20th anniversary production of playwright Jonathan Larson’s groundbreaking creation one of the richest and most rewarding regional performances one can have the good fortune to experience.

Starting this weekend on May 13-14-15 and with performances also being staged next weekend on May 20-21-22, this vigorous tale about a marginal collective of vagabond artists living in Manhattan’s East Village – as with all great works of theatrical art from Romeo & Juliet to West Side Story, focuses upon the subject of death at an early age and the powerful salvation of love to lift us out of the abyss.

Loosely based upon Puccini’s La Boheme, P&B’s production of RENT rushes forward on an electric current of emotion, that despite the hopelessness of characters living in a destitute environment permeated by the shadow of AIDS, drug addiction, and homelessness, is anything but morbid. Each of these unique characters possess an inherent brightness and luster that thanks to Larson’s spirited score & insightful lyrics refuses to romance notions of death & the suffering artist, but rather reaches for a zeitgeist that defies it.

Sparked by a young, intensely vibrant and eminently talented cast consisting of Donte Green and Brooke Marie Gomez in the pivotal roles of Roger Davis & Mimi Marquez, with Brad Phillips, Steven Holty, Kale Schafer, Danessa Hellus and Cole Kruger (turning in a remarkably poignant reading of the eminently hopeful yet ultimately doomed AIDS-infested transsexual, Angel Schunard) each of these actors deftly connect their characters to one another through a collective engagement that seeks to transcend whatever havoc their personal demons may exact upon their well-being.

Roger is a songwriter who has shut down emotionally after the suicide of his girlfriend, but finds salvation in the form of Mimi – a tough stray kitten of a woman who dances in an S&M club and is addicted to heroin. Mark is a video artist who shares an abandoned industrial loft with Roger on Avenue B, but looks through the lens of his camera with an eye to engage with the life around him, but ultimately distances himself through the crutch of his camera into a self-imposed loneliness. And the plot is a spicy hash of lover’s quarrels and reconciliations that all lead to the realization that just as yesterday is past and the future is nebulous, the only space we have to occupy is that of today.

Larson gives refreshing melodic life to the seeming bleakness of these plot lines with a breathtaking musical score that is often revelatory, precisely interpreted in this P&B production by the excellent musical talents of the five-member band, consisting of Abby Bethke, Todd Bethune, Domingo Vasquez, Bill Portmann and Steve Nyquist.

The musical styles contained in the libretto range from electric rock to salsa, Motown, Be-bop and reggae, with a firm nod to the lyrical dexterity of Stephen Sondheim.   A particularly incredible moment occurs in the song Will I? with a disarmingly dexterous use of operatic, multi-voiced counterpoints, with six-part harmonies singing:

“Will I wake tomorrow / From this nightmare?

Will I lose my dignity? /  Will someone care?

On one level RENT is about breaking through the self-protective detachment embodied by both Roger and Mark; but ultimately the production addresses the idea of being cut off from our feelings by fear.

Ultimately it is both the wit of the script and emotional conviction of the actors that makes this a transcendent theatrical experience, miles above the synthetic & calculated Broadway musical revivals and revues we have grown accustomed to seeing in recent years.

A perfect example of this is found in the beautiful & brilliant number Jump the Moon, which for me was a highpoint of the production:

Last night I had a dream / I found myself in a desert

Called Cyberland / It was hot

My canteen had sprung a leak / And I was thirsty

Out of the abyss / Walked a cow, Elsie

I asked if she had / Anything to drink

She said, "I'm forbidden / To produce milk

In Cyberland, we only drink / Diet Coke"

She said, "Only thing to do

Is jump over the moon"

Do yourself a favor and do not miss this incredible collection of talent converging to render a performance that I guarantee will occupy a special place in the memory bands of your mind and clear whatever confusion exists in your soul.

RENT: The Broadway Musical runs from May 13-15 & May 20-22nd at Pit & Balcony Theatre, 805 N. Hamilton St., Saginaw. Phone 989-754-6587 or visit www.PitAndBalconyTheatre.com for tickets.





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