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Milburn Stone Theatre Rent

By • Dec 1st, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Rent
Milburn Stone Theatre
/info/the-milburn-stone-theatre, North East, MD
Through December 4th
2:40 with intermission
$18/$15 Seniors/$10 Children
Reviewed November 26th, 2011

Every so often, a show comes along that is truly iconic for a generation. One of those shows was Jonathan Larson’s Rent, which is often heralded as having saved Broadway in the mid-1990s. If nothing else, it certainly drew an entirely new crowd into the theatre with its modern rock score and contemporary plot line and address of social issues. It is an update of Puccini’s La Boheme that centers on a group of young artists living in New York. They struggle with AIDs, drug addiction, relationships (gay, lesbian, and straight), and the ever present fear of selling out.

The hardest part of seeing such an iconic show is separating this one production from all of its predecessors and trying to judge it with a fresh eye and unbiased mind. Some productions of Rent seek to imitate the original, and this one does that in some aspects. However, in many other aspects, this production seeks to reinvent itself and create an entirely new experience. This creates mixed results. While people who do have fresh eyes may enjoy the re-envisioning of the show, others who have expected to see something very specific may be greatly disappointed by the changes. Overall, however, the vision is well-executed and leads to an overall solid production. There are a few significant missteps, though, that would make it hard to describe the production as great. It does, however, display moments on the cusp of greatness.

The set was a true moment of greatness. It was as good as if not better than any professional set for the production. Graffiti spread off the stage and into the house, posters were plastered over the walls, and television screens were placed around the set. The television sets were a key part of the vision of Director S. Lee Lewis. Several of the screens stayed on the consistent static of snow. Others showed a variety of images that connected with the production. Sometimes, it was Mark’s footage. Sometimes, it was television footage from the 90s or television Christmas specials. Other times, it was old photographs or footage of the actors. Other times, it was symbolic images like rushing blood cells to stand for AIDS. Sometimes, the video images really worked and really added to what was going on. Other times, they were distracting or confusing. The thematic connection of creating the world of constant sensory overload and disconnection was a great idea; the reality, however, was often too much commotion in what should have been more intimate moments.

Another part of the vision was the addition of dance – lots and lots of dance. Almost every number became a dance number. In many cases, members of the ensemble would be performing interpretive dance while the principals were singing within the context of the scene. Bambi Johnson’s choreography was beautiful. The dancers were elegant, trained, and precise. It would be amiss to say that the dance was anything less than excellently designed and executed. The problem was that it was completely different from the normal intimacy of the show and really upset many who came into the audience with expectations. It also really did take the focus off of the principles and some of the key moments. This combined with the screens led to an end result in which the vision had a tendency to overtake the show itself.

For example, when Roger sang “One Song Glory,” two dancers (representing Roger and April) performed a beautiful, soulful, modern Pas de deux in the center of the stage and the screens were filled with images of Roger and April together and April in the bathroom. The dance was spectacular, the footage was good, but who was paying attention to Roger singing anymore? Another example was in “Contact.” The intimacy of Angel’s final moments was obscured by a dance number with Collins standing far above and apart from him. The choreography was again a frenzy of brilliance, and nothing but wonderful things can be said about Eyvo (Angel)’s dance ability, but something key about that moment was lost with the distance between him and Collins. Then, despite a beautiful rendition of the “I’ll Cover You Reprise,” attention was completely pulled from the performance to looking at the many images of a younger Evyo/Angel throughout the years.

Even with the constant pulls of focus, several performers were able to deliver and stand out. Joseph Murphy (Mark) made that character his own. He was genuine, funny, and vocally ideal. James Mikijanic (Tom Collins) created a warm and likeable character. Evyo (Angel) also did a very good job. “Today for You, Tomorrow for Me” was a little rocky on the vocals, but, overall, he was able to stand out with his energetic and skilled dance performance and the humor and love he brought to the role. Anthony Vitalo (Benny) also did a nice job in alternating between sleazy and almost likeable. Unlike many Bennys, there were moments where you could see why these people used to be good friends with him.

The absolute best performance in the show, though, came from Ben Walker (Gordon). In one tiny moment in one tiny scene, he showed that he could command a moment, make it real, and deliver gorgeous vocals.

Overall, it was a solid cast. However, there were no perfect performances, with most of the performers showing the limit of their vocal ranges with a good handful of cracks and sour notes. This was a problem that definitely plagued Erin Chamberlin (Mimi) and Michael DeFlorio (Roger). The pair also lacked chemistry. Both showed moments of promise individually but lacked sizzle when they came together.

Kashana Roberts (Joanne) had the vocal chops for the role, but she seemed a little nervous and unsure of herself, which hurt her characterization in her acting. There were a few moments when she let loose, most notably in “The Tango Maureen” and showed what she was capable of when not second guessing herself. Unfortunately, the second guessing was too often written on her face. Courtney Gardner (Maureen) gave an absolutely brilliant, flawless, creative, and inspired rendition of “Over the Moon.” Following that, her portrayal of Maureen was good but never had quite the same magic of the expectations she set in her first number.

There is a lot of good to say about this production. If the director had just stripped back a little on the vision and focused a little more on the nuances of the story, there could have been something magical here. The director could have also backed off a little on going overboard with some of the more obscene gestures. While several are in the script, there were also many added in this production. With the language and sexual situations, this is definitely not a show for younger audiences. However, for older audiences, especially those that have no preconceived notions about Rent, are interested in seeing a different take on the material, or really love a great dance performance, there is definitely something here worth giving a shot.

Photo Gallery

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Photos provided by Milburn Stone Theatre

Cast

  • Mark Cohen: Joseph Murphy
  • Roger Davis: Michael DeFlorio
  • Tom Collins: James Mikijanic
  • Angel Dumont Shunard: Eyvo
  • Mimi Marquez: Erin Chamberlin
  • Maureen Johnson: Courtney Gardner
  • Joanne Jefferson: Kashana Roberts
  • Benjamin Coffin III: Anthony Vitalo
  • Alexi Darling: Rebekah Latshaw
  • Mark’s Mother: Katie Kolacki
  • Mr. Jefferson: Steve Flickenger
  • Mrs. Jefferson: Ariel Chaillou
  • Roger’s Mom: Tigga Smaller
  • Mimi’s Mother: Maren Lavelle
  • Gordon: Ben Walker
  • Paul: Steve Flickenger
  • April: Ashley Weeks
  • The Man: Brian Reinwald
  • The Squeegee Man: Matthew Dickenson
  • Homeless Kid: Chandler Smith
  • Ensemble: Brian Bonanno, Ariel Chaillou, Jenny Davies, Matthew Dickenson, Steve Flickenger, Charlie Johnson, Kevin Kelso, Katie Kolacki, Rebekah Latshaw, Maren Lavelle, Victoria Lui, Jen Muccioli, Amy Murphy, Danielle Piccolomini, Brian Reinwald, Serenity Rowland, Jenni Schammel, Brynn Shanahan, Melanie Slusar, Tigga Smaller, Chandler Smith, Ben Walker, Ashley Weeks, & Jherra White

Production Crew

  • Director: S. Lee Lewis
  • Musical Director: Marji Eldereth
  • Choreography: Bambi Johnson
  • Music Supervision: Tim Weil
  • Dramaturg: Lynn Thomson
  • Scenic Design: Heather Mork
  • Lighting Design: Kevin Lichty
  • Video Design: Marshall B. Garrett
  • Costume Design: Emma Scholl
  • Sound Design: Shane Springer
  • Hair/Make-up Design: Jherra White
  • Stage Manager: Laurie Brandon
  • Assistant Director/Dramaturg: Tess Pohlhaus
  • S.A.D.: Brandon Gorin
  • Master Electrician: Kevin Lichty
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Chris Nicolo
  • Welder: Kerry Brandon
  • Light Board Operator: Laurie Brandon
  • Sound Board Operator: Shane Springer
  • Video Operator: Marshall B. Garrett
  • Crew: Tyler Bristow, Anthony Derrico, Joanne Foxx, Marshall B. Garrett, Brandon Gorin, Victoria Lui, Chris Nicolo, C. Justin Stockton, Ryan Sofa

The Pit Band

  • Keyboard: AJ LoPorto
  • Guitar: Anthony Derrico, Hakaan Diker
  • Bass: Tom Collins
  • Percussion: Tyler ‘Danger’ Bristow

Disclaimer: Milburn Stone Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.

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