No day but today.
It was last July when I got an email inquiring if I’d be interested in playing the guitar in a play in New York City. Called “Without You,” it starred Anthony Rapp, who was in the original cast of the huge hit play “RENT” on Broadway.
I was doing a lot of work in New York City when “RENT” opened in 1996 and remember the big buzz surrounding it, and the posters, which were plastered all over town. The ground-breaking play, based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La boheme,” tells the story of starving artists and musicians in Manhattan’s lower east side trying to get ahead while drugs and AIDs ravaged their community. It went on to win Tonys, a Pulitzer, became the eighth most successful show in Broadway history, and eventually was made into a major film by Chris Columbus, none of which creator Jonathan Larson ever saw, as he died tragically of an aortic aneurysm the night before the first scheduled preview.
During the run of “Without You,” Anthony asked if I’d be interested in playing a concert with him and another original “RENT” cast member Adam Pascal. Though that show was initially a one-off, we soon were going to Japan, California, Maryland and playing Town Hall in New York City. The concerts included material from Pascal and Rapp’s respective solo CDs, as well as a handful of tunes from “RENT.” Playing the timeless songs written by Jonathan Larson with the the guys who originally sang them was a thrill, to say the least, and with the overwhelmingly positive response from the critics and Rentheads, the tour will continue in the fall.
Once at dinner with the guys, I had to embarrassingly admit that I had never seen the play that had made them Broadway stars and changed the face of musical theatre forever.
Regionally based company Our Own Productions has mounted this run at The Egg, and it is directed lovingly by Matthew T. Teichner. The proceeds from the Saturday matinees go to AIDS charity the Damien Center.
“RENT” revolves around a bunch of bohemians struggle in the late 1990s. Mark Cohen is a videographer (also the play’s narrator) who attempts to document the lives of his colorful artist friends and roommates. Then there’s Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen, who has a new girlfriend, Joanne, and their friend Collins and his new love Angel, and the centerpiece of the saga, the near-miss romance of dancer Mimi and Roger, a failed singer-songwriter. Benny is their landlord and nemesis.
Here at The Egg, a cleverly constructed urban set was squeezed in to the rather smallish stage. Matthew Streifert’s Mark was as adorkable as required, played dark and understated. Alana Sangiacomo was amazing as Maureen, embracing the role with her captivating confidence and presence, a sure standout. As Roger, Brendan Brierley offered a capable reading of “One Song Glory,” and fired up “What You Own” with Streifert.
Daphne Rubin-Vega’s original Mimi sizzled. Others (including Rosario Dawson in the movie version) showed a more vulnerable side. Here the riveting Larissa Diaz finds the center. She offered the burning “Out Tonight” while hanging off the high scaffolding, and the breathtaking “Without You,” a sure show highlight, as was Sangiacomo’s over-the-top “Over the Moon.” Francesco Archino as Collins gave a simply heartbreaking take on “Cover Me (Reprise).”
It all came together with the gorgeous harmonies of the goosebump-raising ensemble pieces, the wild table-top, anything-goes party of “La Vie Boheme,” and the stunning, life-affirming “Seasons of Love.”
Though a challenging and complex undertaking for a community theater company, and shaky at moments, they pulled it off with spirit and verve, and not once did it seem like it was 525,600 minutes long…
“RENT” has changed many lives, so do yourself a favor, and see it next weekend. It might just change yours.
“there is no future, there is no past/I live this moment as my last”
Thank you, Jonathan Larson.
Our Own Productions’ “RENT” continues at The Egg in Albany at 8pm on Friday and Saturday, as well as 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $26; students $21.
Review and iPhone photographs by Colonel David, who was commissioned by Governor Collins of Kentucky in 1986. He now lives in the mountains near Woodstock, plays the guitar all over the world and writes about music closer to home.