“Rent” came in on time and in full. It was quite a pay off.
Southwestern College’s production of “Rent,” the dark but hopeful musical, resonated with big personalities with even bigger voices, all expertly guided through the Age of AIDS by Ruff Yeager against the backdrop of Professor Michael Buckley’s brilliant set.
Countercultural icons from the underbelly of America’s bohemia came back to life on the stage like Reagan-era flashbacks. Actors Jeffrey Crofton, Ryan Dietrich, Ian Morton, Oscar Limon, Taylor Henderson, Wilford Paloma, Meg Monroe and Erika Osuna led a deep and spirited cast that shimmered in the darkness of an innovative and eclectic score. America’s “Love in the Time of AIDS” is sometimes hard to look at, but nearly impossible to ignore.
Set in the fictional but symbolic Alphabet City, N.Y., Mark (Dietrich) and Roger (Crofton) struggle to keep their loft warm as their former roommate, Benny (Limon), attempts to evict them and clear out a colony of homeless people huddled outside the building. A charismatic and fiery performance artist named Maureen (Osuna) has left Mark for an equally temperamental lawyer named Joanne (Henderson). For Roger things seem bleak as he mourns his girlfriend’s suicide and wrestles to write one last song before dying of AIDS. He meets erotic dancer Mimi Marquez (Monroe), who is instantly smitten by him. Meanwhile, Tom Collins (Morton) develops a tight bond with cross-dressing percussionist Angel Dumott (Paloma).
Under a dimmed light, Crofton expressed his desire to write one last meaningful song in “One Song Glory” with impassioned sincerity and a powerful voice that carried emotional resonance.
Rocking high heels, Paloma was fabulous. Dietrich and Henderson were a fiery and delicious dynamic exhibit as they danced to “Tango: Maureen.”
In “Out Tonight” Monroe filled the gritty stage with a sensual energy. Her voice was high and bright, and had the thick zest of a soul singer.
Osuna’s performance of Maureen’s performance art piece “Over the Moon” was the highlight of the show. Obnoxious, loud and hilarious, Osuna was a fireball of energy and conviction with a clear and supple voice. A spirited ensemble rendition of “La Vie Bohème” was a harmonious bow to Act One’s chaos.
Act Two took a rather dark turn with couples arguing about drugs and fidelity, the death of Angel and the group blowing apart. “Seasons of Love,” Rent’s anthem, prevents the musical from falling into complete darkness, shining a pin light of hope over a barren landscape like a white dove gliding over a fire bombed city.
This peppy, fresh new cast gave a pulsing and electrifying voice to Larson’s pleasure-seeking generational deities. Director Ruff Yeager and his cast created an incandescent production and a cautionary tale from a bleak period piece – if we are not careful, the misanthropy of the Reagan ‘80s could return.