‘Rent’ Well Worth The Trip To Fredonia

FREDONIA – ”Our lives are not our own – we rent.”

So says the libretto of the hit Broadway musical ”Rent,” which is currently being produced by the Department of Theater and Dance at SUNY Fredonia.

The show is a re-imagining of the successful opera ”La Boheme.” Since different music can speak to different people, some who have never felt the power and the thrills of that wonderful piece of music now have the chance to feel it through a very different sound.

”Rent” has book, music and lyrics by the late Jonathan Larson, who had a smash opening Off-Broadway, with a production which went on to win him the Pulitzer Prize, but he died of a ruptured aneurism, the day the show opened. While the events of the show all relate to the events of the opera, the characters do not exactly correspond to the originals, with some events happening to different characters.

The plot is set in New York City’s East Village, in the late 1980s. It is the story of a community of young artists who have come together to deal with the fact that they have values which separate them from the core of their generation, and that society is not eager to pay for their artistry.

They have made themselves something of a family, yet like a family, there is sometimes turmoil in their relationships.

In that decade, hard drugs were common, and no solution had yet been discovered for AIDS, and so unlike today, when people can live a long while by managing the virus in their systems, in those days it was a death sentence, and usually a rather rapid one.

Director Tom Loughlin has done a truly remarkable job with this show. His casting is spot-on, and he has balanced his actors’ characterizations so that the humanity of each character is beautifully understandable. The timing is swift, and audience involvement is profound.

Jordan Louis Fischer and Clayton Howe did a fine job as the central pair of friends. Instead of a poet and a painter, who are the central characters of the opera version, these men are a musician and a filmmaker. Both sang very well, powerfully and precisely, and their words were very well enunciated.

Ilana Lieberman was this show’s Mimi, the frail and delicate ingenue, although with far more power than the original. She was wonderfully sympathetic.

Jaclyn Rahmlow was a master of all talents as Maureen, a character who bears some of the plot structure of Musetta, singing, dancing and acting in a way which dominated the stage.

A pair of characters who are not in the opera would be Tom Collins and his partner Angel Schunard. These were successfully performed by Steven Saelzler and a young man who lists his name as Kadeem ”Talent” Davis.

There were no weak portrayals. Indeed, this was as good as any of the professional productions of the show which I have seen.

The pit band, directed by Raymond Stewart, was exciting to hear, yet sensitive in its accompaniment of the action on stage, and made the performance better, throughout.

Scenic Designer Hyla Sue Stellhorn put a scene before our eyes which immersed us in the poverty, the lack of comfort or convenience which the characters endured, yet it never intruded into the actions. Brava!

Sydney Thomas’s choreography was like an additional character, which fitted into and enhanced the show, throughout.

Those who dislike high volume and those who don’t enjoy rock music are the only ones who could possibly not like this production. Otherwise, when it repeats April 10, 11 and 12, I strongly recommend that you make your way to the Marvel Theater, on the university’s campus. It’s well worth the trip to Fredonia.