With performance rights for Jonathan Larson’s hit musical Rent, based on Puccini’s opera La bohème, now available for amateur productions, it really was only a matter of time before one of our local companies decided to have a go.
And while some of Rent‘s original luster may have faded since it premiered on Broadway in 1996, the Fighting Chance Productions version currently playing at Presentation House in North Vancouver is so obviously full of passion and a few great performances that it still manages to rock.
Set over the course of a year in the mid 1990s, Rent follows best friends Mark (Anton Lipovetsky) and Roger (Craig DeCarlo) holed up in their East Village New York loft with no heat and a sketchy electrical system. Mark is filming a documentary on the lives of the Bohemians in his neighbourhood while Roger, the songwriter, continues to struggle with the suicide of his girlfriend, a new relationship with nightclub dancer/heroin addict Mimi (Christine Quintana) and in writing his “one song” before he succumbs to AIDS.
Their mutual friend Tom (Nick Fontaine) quickly falls in love with drag queen Angel (Cesar Erba) and along with Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen (Jacqueline Breakwell) and her new Lesbian lover Joanne (Jenn Suratos), the group bands together to protest former roommate Benny’s (Kholby Wardell) sudden change of heart in letting them and the other residents of the tenement live rent free.
While Rent may have originally played in a small theatre during its off-Broadway run, much like Presentation House, we can’t help but think that it must have been a completely different show from its Broadway cousin. Where the intimacy of Presentation House should have demanded some great editing skills, at times it all felt a little claustrophobic with just a bit too much business bordering on distraction. Where this production really shined, due in a large part to Director Ryan Mooney, was in eliciting some powerful performances from his actors in the smaller, more intimate numbers.
The most pleasant surprise during the evening was Nick Fontaine’s voice as one certainly did not expect such a full and almost blues-like sound to come from this young man and indeed his I’ll Cover You Reprise almost had me searching for my tissues.
Other highlights included the Lipovetsky and Suratos duet Tango Maureen and Breakwell’s hilarious turn as performance artist in Over The Moon.
The full company nails both of the more memorable tunes from the show: La Vie Bohème and Seasons of Love and special mention must go to Cathy Wilmot for both her overall ensemble work and her Seasons of Love solo (we just hope she isn’t being type-cast as “homeless woman”).
Musical Director Sarah Jaysmith leads the small band, up in the rafters, with mixed results that sometimes saw the actors overpowered not only during some of the musical numbers but in the spoken word as well. As anyone who has read my previous reviews knows, one of my pet peeves with productions of these rock operas is with sound. I know that it can be difficult for small groups like this to splurge on renting expensive sound equipment but given the rather complicated plot of this particular show and the necessity for every word to be understood, it really must be priority one.
Set Designers Mimi Abraham and Tracy Lynn Chernaske sensibly keep things simple and Costumer trio Rielle Braid, Jacqueline Breakwell and Christine Quintana easily capture the Bohemian style of the starving artists and the street people that surround them.
While not perfect, as one of Vancouver’s most accomplished actors said during an intermission discussion it is simply enough to see groups like Fighting Chance Productions take chances and tackle a show like Rent. With theatre in Vancouver during the summer almost non-existent, coupled with the relatively small ticket price, the trip across the bridge is worth it.
Rent continues at Presentation House (333 Chesterfield Ave, North Vancouver) through August 30th (an extended run was announced last night).