BWW Reviews: DM Playhouse's RENT Honors Original
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by Brooke Bridenstine
Rent has been seen by millions of people and reviewed by thousands of critics and in the process it has become more than a musical. For millions of devoted Rentheads, the musical epitomizes a way to live your life. How does the Des Moines Playhouse production stack up against such a legacy? Reasonably well.
Jonathan Larson’s story of a group of friends battling AIDS, drug addiction, and poverty in New York City’s East Village in the early 90’s is not without flaws. Much of the backstory is left untold and some characters, such as Joann and Maureen, are not fully fleshed out. But the task for The Playhouse actors and director Jeremy Randall was to honor the original production, and in that regard the team was successful.
One of the brightest spots of the production was Tim Wisgerhof’s set design. The set included one dual level piece that served as all interior and exterior locations. The stairs and ladder, which allowed the actors to travel back and forth between the two levels, along with the brick and beam design adeptly conveyed the atmosphere of an East Village loft, fire escapes and all.
Throughout the first part of the production no cast members stood above the rest. As the show went on, Travis Wells in the role of Tom Collins, emerged as the stand out. Wells was understated yet powerful as Tom dealt with the decline and eventual death of his partner, Angel. While some of his fellow cast members seemed to be reaching for notes, Wells sang with remarkable clarity.
The times at which the ensemble performed best were in the numbers that have made Rent famous, “Seasons of Love” and “No Day But Today.” Both feature the entire ensemble and relieve individual actors from carrying the number alone, thus creating noticeably less vocal strain.
There were moments when the actors were less than convincing and the hair and makeup often gave the unfortunate impression that actors were simply dressing up in ripped jeans and leggings to try to look gritty for a Halloween party.
In the pre-show discussion, Randall admitted the difficulty of turning blonde-haired, blue-eyed teachers, HR directors and mortgage lenders into early 90’s East Village inhabitants, but Rent is a challenging piece of material without those additional difficulties. The actors and creative team should be commended for facing the challenge head on and producing a show that honored the original production.
The production runs through August 5th. For ticket information visit http://www.dmplayhouse.com/