Touring production of “Rent” ought to face possible eviction

During the intermission of  “Rent” at the Marcus Center on opening night, a friend of my wife’s was debating leaving.

This woman, who shall go unnamed, is a regular at theater in Milwaukee and an astute critic who loves most everything she sees. Thinking about leaving at intermission is a drastic step.

But I easily understood and shared her disappointment with the first act of a play that had won a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Our small group tried to figure out what this play was about and why we ought to care about any of these characters.

Making its debut in 1996, “Rent” was a cutting edge look at young artists in the bowels of Greenwich Village and their struggles with life, love and art. The story was met with great acclaim when it hit Broadway and ran for over 5,000 performances.  Resurrected now, it’s kind of sad to say that the story of “Rent” doesn’t carry much weight anymore. The whole thing is dated.

As a world we’ve moved beyond the HIV.Aids panic, we aren’t surprised at gay and lesbian couples and Greenwich Village, for those who have been there, isn’t all that glamorous.

Given the fact that this tale won’t be enough to hold an audience for just over two hours, you search for performance that would give you a bang for your buck. Alas, there are no such performances and a combination of factors made this an evening of disappointment.

The sound throughout the show was as cloudy as any I’ve ever seen in Uihlein Hall. The acoustics in the building have always been problematic, but these performances made things worse.

Everything was too loud, especially the singing.

It’s not that these young people in the inexperienced, non-equity cast,couldn’t sing. They hit notes, but they all seemed to be unable or unwilling to find out what the words of the song actually mean. I might as well have been in some tavern with a string of karaoke singers trying to keep a bunch of drunks awake.

Kaleb Wells, one of the male leads, was especially grating. He was incredibly unfamiliar with the concept of dynamics It sounded like he was from the “Louder is Better” American Idol school of music.

Near the end of the play there is a lovely song when Wells’ love of his life is dying and he sings what should be a tender ballad to her.

When I Looked Into Your Eyes
Why Does Distance Make Us Wise?
You Were The Song All Along
And Before The Song Dies
I Should Tell You I Should Tell You
I Have Always Loved You
You Can See It In My Eyes
When I Looked Into Your Eyes
Why Does Distance Make Us Wise?
You Were The Song All Along
And Before The Song Dies
I Should Tell You I Should Tell You
I Have Always Loved You
You Can See It In My Eyes

It’s a tender moment but the love and longing are lost amid a delivery that just doesn’t connect with the words of the song or the meaning behind them.

Wells isn’t the only offender here. Everyone in this cast acts as if there were no microphones and they had to sing loud enough to reach the back row in the hall. Overacting and over singing are two sins certain to doom a production. The most severe damage caused by  this kind of musical maelstrom is that we never get to see who these people are.

This show is all about relationships, but all the shouting prevents any chemistry between actors. For all their proclamations of “togetherness” this cast was remarkably distant to each other.

The single most important thing in any play is the story. If you don’t have a story, you don’t have a play or a musical or a movie or whatever. Rent obviously was at one time a major achievement for Jonathan Larson who wrote the book, music and lyrics.  

But the lackluster staging and performance make it incredibly hard to follow the tale. Not knowing what the story about is a surefire way to kill a play and this one was gratefully put out of our misery after only two hours.

About davebegel@gmail.com

Theater Critic in Milwaukee.
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One Response to Touring production of “Rent” ought to face possible eviction

  1. Actually, I don’t think Rent is dated. I saw Rent on September 30th of this year and I waited five years. I love Rent and it is meaningful. Its message is not dated because it teaches you about the preciousness of life, that is important to live your lives in love even in the midst of fear, and the importance of living in the moment. While the panic of HIV/AIDS is gone, it is still relevant and is meaningful to me. When I saw it, it exceeded expectations and I was an emotional wreck that night so I don’t see it as dated

    Like

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