AT&T Performing Arts Center
Directed by – Evan Ensign
Based on Original Direction by – Michael Greif
Music Director – Samuel Bagalà
Choreographer – Marlies Yearby
Set Design – Paul Clay
Costume Design – Angela Wendt
Lighting Design – Jonathan Spencer
Sound Design – Keith Caggiano
Production Stage Manager – Jane Marie Davis
Kaleb Wells – Roger Davis
Danny Harris Kornfeld – Mark Cohen
Aaron Harrington – Tom Collins
Christian Thompson – Benjamin Coffin III
Jasmine Easler – Joanne Jefferson
David Merino – Angel Schunard
Skyler Volpe – Mimi Marquez
Katie Lamark – Maureen Johnson
Natalie Lipin – Mark’s Mom and others
John Devereaux – Christmas Caroler, Mr. Jefferson, Pastor, and others
Alia Hodge – Mrs. Jefferson, Woman with Bags, and others
Sammy Ferber – Gordon, The Man, Mr. Grey, and others
Jordan Long – Steve, Man with Squeegee, a Waiter, and others
Timothy McNeill – Paul and others
Futaba Shioda – Alexi Darling, Roger’s Mom, and others
Paola Hernandez, Alexis Louise Young, Bryson Bruce, Tim Ehrlich, and Michael McClure – Swings
Reviewed Performance 9/20/2016
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In 1996, an original rock musical by little-known composer Jonathan Larson opened on Broadway…and forever changed the landscape of American theatre, receiving not only the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Musical, but also the Pulitzer Prize. The show was also an unqualified hit. The Broadway production closed on September 7, 2008 after a 12-year run of 5,123 performances.
The 20th Anniversary Tour of Jonathan Larson’s RENT, presented by AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series, continues to speak loudly and defiantly to audiences across generations and all over the world. Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème, RENT follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. With its inspiring message of joy and hope in the face of fear, this timeless celebration of friendship and creativity reminds us to measure our lives with the only thing that truly matters – love.
The show opens on December 24 at 9:00 pm, sometime at the end of the millennium, as aspiring filmmaker Mark Cohen, played by Danny Harris Kornfeld, is doing what he always does – pointing his camera at anyone that moves. This time it happens to be pointed at his roommate and best friend Roger, played by Kaleb Wells, as he is struggling to write a song. The two don’t get very far in their ventures because they are interrupted by phone calls, people dropping by, and finally, the power blowing.
Mark is the glue that holds the show together, and Mr. Kornfeld does an outstanding job with the role. He’s the only main character without a significant other, and he comes across charming yet geeky, compassionate without being sappy, and extremely likeable. Mark never really leaves the stage, so he’s “on” the whole time, observing the events unfolding around him either by attentively watching or filming. Mr. Kornfeld never steals focus. When he is a part of the action, he throws in 100% vocally and physically.
Mr. Wells plays the brooding Roger with just the right amount of angst. He just wants to be left alone to write his one big song...until Mimi (Skyler Volpe) shows up, and then he is immediately smitten. He and Ms. Volpe have great chemistry, and their numbers together are wonderful, especially “Without You.”
“Without You” is the song during which I always cry (and I’m sure I’m not alone, as I heard plenty of sniffles around me). Watching the end of Angel’s life and the love he had with Tom Collins, surrounded by the lesser yet still intense heartbreak of their friends and their relationships, is just flat out beautiful and sad. Angel is perfectly portrayed by David Merino. As the sweet drummer who rescues Collins (Aaron Harrington) on the street, we see his huge heart and giving spirit. As the extravagant drag queen, he (she) never loses that sweetness. It’s a lovely, layered performance, aided by the chemistry he shares with Mr. Harrington’s Tom Collins. Collins is just as giving as Angel – just not as flamboyant – and Mr. Harrington’s rich baritone complements Mr. Merino’s smooth tenor quite nicely.
Maureen and Joanne make up the final couple, played by Katie Lamark and Jasmine Easler respectively. We hear about Maureen long before we see her, and unseen, she doesn’t make a great first impression, despite the fact that “Tango: Maureen” is one of the most fun songs in the show. Her flashy entrance via motorcycle is worth the wait, though. As a beautiful, self-centered performance artist, Ms. Lamark does a nice job, although “Over the Moon” came across much angrier than I’ve seen it done in other productions. As with the other couples, her excellent chemistry with Ms. Easler’s Joanne makes the character work. Joanne has always been one of my favorite roles, especially as her friendship with Mark develops, confusing Maureen to no end.
The role of Benjamin Coffin III has always puzzled me. He’s kind of supposed to be the “villain” of the piece, but he’s also trying to make his dreams come to reality, even though he had to marry rich for that to happen. Christian Thompson’s portrayal of Benny was one of the most honest I’ve seen. He truly doesn’t understand why his friends don’t see how what he’s doing could help them. He’s not a jerk about it (except for the fact that he’s cheating on his wife with Mimi...but we won’t go there), and the post funeral scene where he and Collins essentially make up is wonderfully simple. I really loved the understatedness of Mr. Thompson’s performance.
RENT wouldn’t be RENT without the amazing ensemble supporting and surrounding the main characters, and this one does not disappoint. From the sarcastic Christmas Carolers to the Voice Mails to “La Vie Bohème,” the ensemble is extremely strong. “Will I?” is another song that always hits me, and of course “Seasons of Love” was fabulous. Harmonies were all tight, choreography was perfect, and those random lines here and there were sharp. I love a good ensemble!
Music director Samuel Bagalà did a nice job with all of the young voices. I was surprised to read in their bios that most of the actors were recent graduates, and for many this was their first national tour, so he and director Evan Ensign had their work cut out for them. They did an outstanding job with this young cast. Marlies Yearby’s choreography was also quite excellent, especially for “La Vie Bohème.”
Paul Clay’s set design (adapted by Matthew E. Maraffi) was skillfully cluttered and functional, and Jonathan Spencer’s lighting design was spot on. The shadows and colors were just perfect. Angela Wendt’s costume designs suited the characters well, and Keith Caggiano’s sound design partnered well with the band. I especially loved the voice modifications used for the voice mail numbers. And the band, led by Mr. Bagalà, who was also on keyboards, was fabulous!
I’m old enough to have seen the first national tour of RENT (while most of this cast was still in diapers), as well as a subsequent tour a few years later. I haven’t seen RENT for awhile and I’m glad to say it holds up pretty well. Sure, there are some aspects that are dated, but the message of love is still as strong as ever and the music is still as amazing as it was when I first heard it. If you’ve never seen RENT, this 20th Anniversary Tour is a good place to start.
RENT-ATT Performing Arts Center Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through October 2.
Actual days: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 and 7:30 pm. Tickets are $25 to $210. For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.attpac.org/ or call the box office at 214-880-0202.