Theater Review: RENT @ Lewis Family Playhouse; Rancho Cucamonga, CA
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Last night I witnessed my fourth incarnation of RENT. One of the benefits of having a girlfriend who is involved in the theatrical arts is that I’ve become cultured in areas beyond totally obscure forgotten records and really, really bad movies. My mom would drag me to Broadway shows probably once a year when I was growing up, but I think I’ve spent more time in theaters in these two years with Nicci (or watching her) than I had in the previous 26 years of my life combined (side note: Mama Mia! sucked, mom).
I’ve reviewed two (Pantages 2009, RMTC 2009) of the previous performances of RENT I’ve seen, so there is no reason to rehash the musical’s entire storyline again. I’ll try to sum it up as quickly as possible even though it’s an injustice. The story follows the lives of a group of friends in New York’s East Village for one year, while they deal with love, loss, AIDS, addiction and the frustrations of modern day life.
The show opened at the beautiful Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga last night. I was about as nervous before the show, pacing around and sweating and hyperventilating like a complete loser. There was a mixture of that and anticipation for seeing Nicci reprise the role she played in Alabama a few months ago (see: RMTC, 2009 review above). Ken and Katie showed up to lend their support as well, and once they arrived I think I started to calm down. The spacious foyer of the Playhouse showcases its unique architectural design. The 560-seat theater houses a large stage, many times the size of the basement theater’s stage in Alabama. The set design looked very close to that of the 2009 National tour. I could not tell if the room was sold out, as I had no view of the 2nd level seats, but it appeared close to capacity.
As for the production, you can’t ask much more from an opening night. Director Ron Kellum — who also directed in Alabama — once again worked his magic, molding the cast into a beautiful and cohesive unit. The choreography was stellar. It was fun to see the entire stage put to use. My eyes constantly darted back and forth, up and down as they followed the action. The large space never felt too big. The lights were impeccable, and the band was strong throughout the show. The drummer/conductor Dave (who I had the pleasure of meeting after the show; we bonded over our mutual aversions towards white foods!) displayed amazing dynamic skill, especially with his symbols. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drummer conduct before, so that was cool to watch as well.
And the actors…they were wonderful. This being opening night, I was not sure what to expect. The entire rehearsal schedule lasted less than one month (I think they started February 7th and opened March 5th?), but everything came together rather flawlessly. There were a few “pitchy” moments during the show’s opening songs, but the cast grew stronger as the show progressed. “Will I” is a song I often look forward to, and the color of the voices in this cast when they sing together — be it in “Will I” or “Seasons Of Love” — was phenomenal. I was hoping “Will I” would be extended, because by the time the last singers take the stage you really only hear the entire company sing half of one round. Still, it was stunning. Nicci’s friends from Alabama, Dylan (who played the role of Mark), Casey (Roger) and Ben (Angel) were wonderful, as they too were reprising their roles as three of the principal characters. Adriana, who played Maureen, stood out as well. I’ve seen people play that role and try to over-sexualize it, but I liked how she played up the ironic comedic value of the pretentious performance artist. Loren as Tom Collins brought a new voice to a favorite character of mine. Slightly more tenor than the deep baritone, he flat-out killed his “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” solo. Ben’s voice during “Contact” was the best I’ve heard from him, and well…Nicci was unbelievable. I really was at a loss for words watching her. There was no doubt in my mind they would receive a warm and loud standing ovation at the conclusion of the show, and they absolutely deserved it.
Afterwards there was a small reception for cast, crew and friends held at the Playhouse. It was great to meet the people I’ve been hearing about for the past month as well as catch up with the people involved with the Alabama show. Watching everybody interact off stage made it clear how close everybody is and how much they care for each other. What RENT boils down to is a story about unconditional love, and everyone involved in this show not only understands that, they live it. I met a lot of new people last night who were all super-nice to me. I even got to impart some advice to a cast-member’s boyfriend who was experiencing his girlfriend going through the production process for the first time. Lots of red wine was consumed. Explicit drawings may or may not have appeared on makeshift duct-taped tablecloths. I look forward to seeing the show again next Friday with…my mother. It’ll be interesting to hear how she reacts to the show. I know she saw the original production, but she’s an all-around East-Coast-livin’, Broadway-lovin’, hold-nothing-back Jewish mother, so it’ll be fun to hear her take. If I slip the costume designer twenty bucks, do you think she can add some extra material to Nicci’s costumes? Mom’s gonna see a lot more of my girlfriend’s body than she needs to see…
Hey, go see RENT at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga! There are only five performances left: Saturday the 6th, Sunday the 7th, Friday the 12th, Saturday the 13th and Sunday the 14th. Sunday matinees at 2:00pm, all other performances at 7:30pm. Ticket information can be found at the theater’s website (see: link above). I also heard a rumor about discounted tickets if you become a “fan” of the “Broadway At The Gardens: Lewis Family Playhouse” on Facebook. You can also see plenty of photos and promo videos there. *The more you know!*
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